Meet the bookseller with Margaret Snowdon
Margaret Snowdon is a bookseller and the immensely knowledgeable art & design book buyer with the very good eye at Readings Carlton.
Here, she chats about her favourite parts of her job working on the floor, the books that made an impact on her growing up, and how she came to work in the book industry.
Why did you decide to work in books?
It just happened. I was at a loose end after I finished school and an employment agency sent me to an interview at a bookshop because I liked reading. The bookshop was called the Pocket Book Shop and it was like a version of Readings. The owner, Jim Thorburn, was quite a character who had imported books like Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth and Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D H Lawrence when they were still banned in Australia. The big thing for me (as well as all the books) was that I worked with some wonderful women who introduced me to a much broader view of the world, who taught me so much about books, literature, and having fun. One of them became a lifelong friend – hello Gilly!
What is your favourite part of your job?
I also have fun with our customers; I asked someone what they had in their Rare Book Fair bag recently and they showed me the book in the photo – so appropriate and amusing, since I’ve been a bookseller for so long. My job as the art and design book buyer is definitely up there too – I feel so fortunate to work somewhere where such a thing is possible.
What is the weirdest thing to happen to you in a bookshop?
The weird things that happen in bookshops are often sad. Bookshops are welcoming and comfortable environments for many people, so there are stories I’ll keep to myself. I do have memories of a previous workplace where Dennis Hopper once came in. I guess he wanted to be left alone (fair enough too) because he seemed to be reprising his role in Blue Velvet. He wasn’t wearing an oxygen mask, but he was quite fascinating nonetheless.
What kind of trends do you see in books right now? Do you have any predictions for the future?
It is difficult to make predictions in our digital world – the way humanity interacts with technology is an unfolding project, plus there is the question of the use of resources. There will probably be an adjustment in the role of booksellers – perhaps there will be a move towards being bibliotherapists. Really good customer service in a bookshop is a bit like that already.
Tell us about an Australian book that made a significant impact on you.
I read voraciously as a child and typically for that era, most of the books were English, European or American. Finding Australian authors like Nan Chauncy, Ivan Southall and Hesba Brinsmead no doubt helped orientate my sense of place – there are so many more Australian authors and books for younger readers now. Continuing that orientation is the pleasure I get from consistently selling Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe. I’m also reading The Colonial Fantasy: Why White Australia Can’t Solve Black Problems by Sarah Maddison, because I have been pondering the problems of colonialism for a long time. I have also been hearing the term ‘decolonisation’, which sounds like a good idea, both locally and globally.
The World of My Past by Abraham Biderman I read in the 1990s – it is a moving and beautifully written autobiography by a Polish-Australian-Jewish Holocaust survivor, and No Friend but the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani is in my to-read-next pile.
Tell us about a book that changed the way you think.
I read All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque in high school and it had a big impact on me. It revealed the importance of looking at things from different perspectives and how empty power structures can be, to the detriment of many.
French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David opened my taste buds and senses to the possibilities and pleasures of food and other cultures. I grew up in a small country town and my mother was a wonderful English-style cook, but reading about food adventures in Paris and then making the recipes really created an atmosphere in my mind. It lasted until my first trip to Paris many years later, when I finally got to go to the local markets and hang out. I had such a great time via the sense of place from books like that, and also from books like Colette’s works.