Speaking volumes: an interview with indie bookstore owner Kate Rogan
Joburg’s celebrated independent bookshop, Love Books, turned ten in 2019. We caught up with its owner just as the silly season kicked into high gear.
The Reading List: What’s life like as an indie bookseller?
Kate Rogan: Full. Full of books, authors, launches, customers. By extension, full of words, thoughts, stories, ideas, the life of the mind. And full, full — fuller than you ever imagined — of admin.
TRL: Which books have Love Books customers been most excited about in 2019?
Kate Rogan: The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s highly anticipated follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale. Normal People: Sally Rooney sealed her reputation as the voice of a generation with this one. A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg by the great Harry Kalmer, who very sadly died in July this year, but left this for us to relish, his first and only English novel.
TRL: Which authors have had the most interesting book launches at your shop this year?
Kate Rogan: Hard to pick but here are some that stand out. The wonderful Marcus Byrne and Helen Lunn chatting to Simon Gear about one of my favourite books of the year, Dance of the Dung Beetles. I never thought a book about dung beetles would attract more than 150 people to the launch, but they are magic creatures and that’s what happened. Gerrit Olivier chatting to Jonathan Cane about his book, Civilising Grass, a look at the art of the lawn on the Highveld, was gripping stuff, believe me. Simon Sebag Montefiore’s conversation with Dr Khumisho Moguerane of UJ’s History Department was compelling. We launched Simon’s book Written in History: Letters that Changed the World. Maneo Mohale, a poet of rare intelligence launched her brutal collection, Everything is a Deathly Flower and listening to her read her work was everything! And finally, we had a whole lot of unexpected fun with Helen Moffett when she launched her book Wise About Waste. Sarah Wild chatted to her and they were a match made in heaven.
TRL: What was the wildest period of bookselling this year?
Kate Rogan: The first day of our annual birthday sale on 8 June is always pretty wild – we have fantastic stuff on sale at less 70% and if you get there early enough, you get a slice of Anna’s famous carrot cake. Our Saturday morning launch of Which Side is Up? with Zapiro two weeks ago comes a very close second.
TRL: What fiction do you expect to be big over the Christmas period?
Kate Rogan: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy and Death on the Limpopo by Sally Andrew (the third in her Tannie Maria Mystery series).
TRL: And non-fiction?
Kate Rogan: The Night Trains by Charles van Onselen, Body: A Guide for Occupants, by Bill Bryson, One Day in Bethlehem by Jonny Steinberg, Outgrowing God by Richard Dawkins and of course Daily Maverick’s own We Have a Game Changer.
TRL: What book would you recommend for a reluctant young reader?
Kate Rogan: Without a doubt Andy Griffiths’ Treehouse series — I have personal experience of this! It starts with The 13-Storey Treehouse and goes up in increments of 13. We’re currently on The 117-Storey Treehouse. So, lots to keep your reluctant young one entertained.
TRL: What is the best recipe book you have in store at the moment?
Kate Rogan: Hands down, Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi. But I am also in love with the beautiful and quirky Dishoom: From Bombay with Love by Shamil Thakrar.
TRL: Which books are you personally most looking forward to over the next couple of months?
Kate Rogan: Apeirogon by Colum McCann, The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel (the third and final book in her Thomas Cromwell series), American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins and Due South of Copenhagen by Mark Winkler.
TRL: And finally, Love Books celebrated its tenth year recently. What do you think makes a successful bookshop?
Kate Rogan: Can we make that a successful independent book shop? You’ve got to have soul. You’ve got to be a part of your community and keep your space alive and thrumming by hosting book events, knowing your customers and having an interesting selection. You’ve got to curate your selection carefully and give your shop a personality via the books you sell. And you have to have engaging staff who know books and can make suggestions. Love Books is lucky to have our resident book sage, Anna Joubert, in that (and many other) respects. Our knowledge is undoubtedly one reason why we won 2019 National Trade Bookseller (Independent) at the Sefika SA Book Awards this year. Stop by for a visit — and a book or two! ML
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