Joseph-Beth is celebrating 25 years as an independent bookstore. Celadon talked with Michael Link, the publisher relations and events manager in the Cincinnati location about his book recommendations, what’s changed throughout his career as a bookseller, and celebrities promoting books.
What makes a great bookstore?
The two things that immediately jump to mind are point of view and passion. My favorite stores have a unique perspective that makes it impossible to mistake them for any other stores, in any other place. It’s that the store is infused with the passion of the bookseller, the titles that are featured and hand-sold, the products that are curated—you can feel it as soon as you walk in the door.
What book has made the greatest impact on you?
The first thing to pop into my head are the books of Arundhati Roy. Her essays are some of the most important things I have ever read. Also, reading Harry Potter with my daughter Iris, and watching her now devour books on her own has been transformative.
What book do you recommend most and why?
I have probably put more copies of City of Thieves by David Benioff in more readers’ hands than pretty much any other book over the last couple of years because I have yet to have someone come back that didn’t enjoy it.
Do you have a favorite genre?
I don’t really have one; or I guess it is seasonal. I’m reading more fiction right now. Since becoming a parent, I have been keenly aware of the difference a good book can have on a child versus one that is a poor fit. It is so easy to convince kids that they don’t like to read if they have books that don’t speak to them, or worse, they don’t have access to books at all. So, I pay a lot of attention to books that have the ability to harness the reader’s imagination.
What’s the most unique or memorable thing that’s happened at the bookstore?
One story that I love happened at an event we [hosted for] Doris Kearns Goodwin. A staffer from the museum we partnered with was convinced that he knew me, but he couldn’t place me. He later came running up to me with sort of a wide-eyed look. He then told me, somewhat emotionally, that I had introduced his family to their favorite author. I’d talked to him about The Squirrel’s Birthday and Other Parties by Toon Tellegen (go find it!) and they’d purchased all of his books and read them as a family. When they took car trips, whichever parent wasn’t driving would read the stories to the rest of the family. Having the privilege to be part of something like that tacked another year onto my bookselling career alone.
What have been the biggest book trends at your bookstore in the past 6 months?
With the current political landscape, media coverage for non-political books has gotten somewhat sparse. So, if Emma Roberts is using Instagram to get people to read Hannah Pittard and Wiley Cash is getting Crystal Wilkinson’s The Birds of Opulence into reader’s hands, I thank them.
Who are some of the local authors you’ve gotten to know or recommend?
Cincinnati surprised me when I moved here by the shear depth of incredible authors that live here. To name a few: Loren Long, Will Hillenbrand, Leah Stewart, Chris Bachelder, Sharon Draper—the list goes on and on.
What’s the biggest surprise about working at a bookstore?
I think that a lot of people are surprised about how much work it actually takes. We often hear many of our customers (and family members) say they would love to retire and work in the store. I think that as soon as the reality hits that the books don’t fly themselves to the shelves and that we also have restrooms that must be tended to, the romance may be tempered.
Your all-time favorite bookstore? What makes it so special?
This is an impossible question and shame on you for asking! Politics & Prose (in Washington D.C.) will always be where I started and fell in love with bookselling; Joseph-Beth is where I have met some of the most important people in my life; and Shakespeare and Company in Paris for good measure.