A New (& New York) Chapter in My Life

Alison Morris -- June 18th, 2010

Lorna Ruby (left) and I have shared a windowless basement office for 7 years, hence the pale skin and beady eyes.

As many of you may have read yesterday in Children’s Bookshelf, Gareth and I are about to start a new chapter in our lives – complete with a new job for me and a new apartment for us, in (drum roll please…) New York City.

Starting September 1 I will be the Senior Editor of Acquisitions and Merchandising at Scholastic Book Clubs. In this newly created position I’ll be working with David Allender, Vice President of Scholastic Book Clubs, to select and merchandise trade books for the Clubs’ monthly catalogs, which are sent home throughout the country with kids ages toddler to teen.

In many ways this job seems like a dream come true for me. I get to have the experience of working for a large publisher but, in much the same way as I’ve done as a buyer, I get to see and select from the lists of books being published by everyone. I get to steer an almost incomprehensible number and variety of kids and parents and teachers toward books, authors, and illustrators that I think are more than worth their knowing, and try to make those books affordable to all of them. I get to continue working with teachers—the customers with whom I think I’ve done the best and most rewarding work of my bookselling career—and I get to dip my toes still further into the worlds of both editing and marketing, without having to choose just one or the other.

One of the first children's events we hosted at our store was with the couldn't-be-more-charming Bob Graham. Other visitors early on included Marie-Louise Gay, Robert Sabuda, Graeme Base, and Susan Cooper. Our children's event series has been going strong ever since!

The decision to make this leap, though, has not been an easy one. I’ve been an independent bookseller/buyer for 12 years – 9 of which I’ve spent at Wellesley Booksmith, and all of which I have loved. I have loved building the children’s section at our store and cementing our place in the larger community. I have loved working with the hundreds of authors and illustrators who have come through our doors and getting to know the editors and other folks in publishing who have made their books happen. Most of all, I have loved discovering terrific new books and putting them in the hands of readers.

I’m going to miss all the close personal relationships I’ve formed at our store with local teachers and librarians. I’m going to miss working with my fellow independent booksellers – some of the hardest-working, most creative, most intelligent people I know. I’m going to miss having daily contact with the public – of meeting new people each and every day and having meaningful conversations with them about what they’re reading, who they’re buying for, and what kinds of things they look for in a book. Those conversations have been such an important part of what I do that it’s hard to imagine going days, let alone weeks, without having them.

This is Lorna and me sitting at my desk (she has her own). I have tried to make up for our lack of windows by covering every surface with attractive book-related artifacts, but... We would still prefer windows.

In making the decision of whether or not to take this job, though, I’ve had to reflect on what my chief goals have been as a bookseller: to put great books into kids’ hands; to turn reluctant readers into eager ones; to sustain the interests of fluent readers by introducing them to a ready supply of new, great books; to help teachers find the books that will reach each of their students and make their jobs more enjoyable; to discover great talent and spot new trends in the fields of writing and illustration; to ignite in others (of any age!) a passionate love for reading and for books – in particular those created for kids and teens. I believe my new role at Scholastic Book Clubs will allow me to accomplish all of these same goals, even if my daily work and means of getting there will look considerably different.

I am truly grateful to everyone who has helped shape the past 12 years of my bookselling career – this includes the customers I’ve worked with, the booksellers I’ve learned from, the sales reps who have guided my choices and shaped our store’s success, the authors and illustrators and editors and agents and publicists and countless others who have talked candidly with me about the work that they do and bonded with me about books. You have been the very best kind of company, and the very best teachers too. I’m looking forward to learning still more from you in this next phase of my life.

The Junie B. Jones bus came to our store soon after Lorna started working here. We look so much younger in this photo (though not as young as the twenty-something actress playing Junie). Where does the time go?

Let me make it clear that just because I will no longer be working in an independent bookstore, that does not mean I don’t still believe, heart and soul, in the value of and necessity for independent bookstores. I am still and always will be an evangelist for independent bookselling. I will continue to shop at independent bookstores, sing the praises of independent bookstores, send new business to independent bookstores, and educate the world about what it is that these stores do and why their work is so valuable to all of us.

I will be at Wellesley Booksmith through the end of June (my last official day will be Friday, July 2). After that Gareth and I will spend a month apartment-hunting, packing, and reveling in both the excitement and terror of pulling up roots and planting them in (yeesh) the great hub of New York City. Once there I hope to spend a few weeks getting back to work on my too-long-neglected book, before I start work at Scholastic on September 1.

When Julie Andrews Edwards came to our store in 2007, we thought we'd all died and gone to Heaven. Or maybe Austria. That was one event I'll never forget.

I am sad to be leaving our store, and I am sad to be leaving the children’s section that I’ve spent 9 years building here. I am not, however, worried about how EITHER will fare in my absence!

Going forward, there are two amazing booksellers who will share the responsibilities of buying children’s books for Wellesley Booksmith and who are looking forward to meeting those of you who’ve been working with me for lo these many years. Margaret Aldrich is a bookseller and librarian par excellence who reads more books in a week than I read in a month (seriously) and whose taste is almost always 100% aligned with mine. (If you’ve liked my recommendations you will definitely, absolutely like hers!) Lisa Fabiano is a savvy bookseller, terrific mother, intelligent reader, portrait of efficiency, and cool head in any crisis. She’s been assisting Lorna and me in the buyers’ office here for two years now, and we weep bitter tears on the rare occasion when she takes a vacation. Together Margaret and Lisa will continue to bring all the enthusiasm, good sense, and keen organization to our children’s department that customers have come to expect from us, but they’ll also (because there are two of them) be able to spend more time on the floor with customers, which is a blessing for everyone! I can’t think of a better fit for this job than this dynamic duo, and I know those of you who meet Margaret and Lisa will find them a joy to work with.

I'm hoping I can still find a way/place/audience for giving book talks (like this one I did at the Bacon Free Library in Natick). They've been my single favorite aspect of my job.

Working with Margaret and Lisa will eventually be a third person, a Children’s Marketing and Event Coordinator, as soon as we find the right person for the job. This person will be in charge of running our extensive series of events with children’s book authors and illustrators, in addition to working part-time as a bookseller in our store. (If you know someone who’d be ideal for this position, please put them in touch with us!)

As for the overall health of Wellesley Booksmith, it’s probably right now the strongest it has ever been. While it’s true the store is currently for sale, there are several parties very interested in becoming our new owners, and all signs point to them being people who will continue to run our store in the way that it has been – efficiently, intelligently, and with the same dedication to superb customer service that has made us a vital part of this community for more than ten years. I have every reason to believe that our store will continue to grow and, in fact, thrive in the coming years — our amazing staff of booksellers will see to it that happens!

I'm going to miss all the wonderful dogs who visit our store. (We give them treats, which keeps them and their owners coming back.) This is Tucker, a resident favorite. His "mom" is amazing school librarian Lisa Rogers, and Tucker has his own blog. Click on the photo to see.

In the meantime, I am excited to try something different, and optimistic about the new opportunities and adventures New York may hold for me and for Gareth. I’m looking forward to getting better acquainted with the New Yorkers I’ve known for years but seen infrequently. I’m hoping our paths will cross more often now and would welcome any advice you have to give us soon-to-be-locals: things we should do; places we should explore; neighborhoods we should consider; apartments we should rent (!); experiences with renting an outside studio versus creating art in your own house; banks you actually like; doctors you’d recommend… We’d welcome your thoughts on almost anything! Please comment here with any insider tips or drop me a line (shelftalker AT gmail DOT com).

And if anyone’s got any cures for bookselling homesickness (would we call that “storesickness”?) I’d welcome those too!

18 thoughts on “A New (& New York) Chapter in My Life

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  2. Ariel

    Congratulations, Alison!
    If you find any cures for bookselling homesickness, please let me know. I have a bad case of that myself!
    Would love to catch up with you one of these days!

  3. Heather

    I’m so glad you’ll be here with us, and I hope you’re excited. I second Washington Heights. It’s a great neighborhood (I live there) and is a really easy commute to Soho (you’ll be at the Scholastic building on Broadway, right?). Also, it has the bonus of HUGE apartments at 1997 prices.
    Congratulations on the big new stuff coming your way! You’ll love it.

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  5. Carin

    I agree with Mari – in fact most of Brooklyn these days is just as expensive as Manhattan. I lived in Astoria, Queens for half the rent of my Brooklyn friends. Fantastic and cheap Greek food everywhere (especially at Tavera Kyclades), and really everything was cheaper in Queens. I lived off the last stop (Ditmars) which meant I always got a subway seat in the morning.

    For cheap things to do: play previews, various parks (not just Central), The Cloisters is awesome, Shakespeare in the Park, Staten Island ferry (and that’s the only way to get to Michael’s, for your crafting fix!) Have fun!

  6. Jessica Leader

    I can’t believe I got to meet you ever so briefly at my Wellesley Booksmith event and now you are heading to my former home! (NYC, not Scholastic.) I am sure you will be a great force on the Scholastic Book Fair team. As for NYC advice, I find Yelp’s restaurant recommendations indispensible for incredibly delicious, inexpensive food. Have fun!

  7. Penny

    Good luck in the new venture! I am a children’s book editor for Scholastic in New Zealand and have been following and enjoying your blog for months – so it’s my pleasure now to welcome you to the team! I’ve been with Scholastic for nearly 30 years, so it can’t be a bad place to work …

  8. Joyce

    Alison, I speak collectively for the city of New York when I say we can’t wait. I can’t help you with your missing buying or events, but we can always go out for some freelance handselling.

  9. ama

    I’ve just found your blog, but you had me at “affordable”. I’m always glad to see people with a real drive and passion succeed to positions where they can make a difference. We shouldn’t always expect libraries to pick up the slack for families with children who can’t afford the high cost of books and cost should never be a reason why children aren’t reading. As an aspiring author for children, I’m glad to see there are people who care passionately too. I wish you every success and will now be reading your blog archives!

  10. Debbie W.

    Will you continue to blog on occasion or will that stop after you move? I always enjoy your blogs and hope you will continue!

  11. Mari

    Exciting news!

    Please don’t focus your search for a home only on the trendy sections of Brooklyn, as most young, creative people tend to do. There are so many other wonderful places where you’ll get more for your dollar, and those areas NEED young, creative people too.

    Why not look into Washington Heights (aaaall the way in the north of Manhattan) or the family-oriented, somewhat suburban neighborhood of Riverdale in the Bronx (not too far from the Botanical Gardens).

    All the best to you and congrats on the new job!!

  12. Josephine Nobisso

    Congratulations, and happy move! As for places to visit, since you guys love nature, get to the Bronx Botanical Gardens for an out-of-the city-and-into-a-fairy-tale journey. (Being a girl you can take out of the Bronx, but out of whom you can’t take the Bronx–Recall my In English, of Course?–I consider this the most magical place in the 5 boroughs!) We didn’t get to meet when I came to MA, Allison, but now we’ll have more opportunities to! Happy adventure!
    Joi

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  14. Carter Hasegawa

    A well-deserved congratulations. I will sincerely miss you at the local conferences and the occasional party. Just be sure to prepare a guest room for all the folks that are sure to want to visit. Good luck!

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