Skip to main content


November 29, 2012

Jami Attenberg on Handselling to Her Bookstore Customers

Posted by tom

Jami Attenberg’s part-time job at an independent Brooklyn bookstore allows her to help customers pick out the perfect book to give to their loved ones for the holidays. Jami, whose most recent novel is THE MIDDLESTEINS, recommends Patti Smith’s memoir JUST KIDS most often, which tells readers that it is more than okay to pursue your dreams.


I work part-time at WORD, an independent bookstore in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, and my great joy during my time there is handselling to customers. All I want to do is help pick out the perfect book for someone and put it in their hand. It makes me feel like I can make a slight difference in the world, and I love when customers come back in the store to let me know they enjoyed a book. And there is absolutely no better time to handsell than during the holiday season.

Customers walk in the store prepared to indulge themselves in shopping for their loved ones. They are game and ready. They want to buy classic children’s books for nieces and nephews. They want to buy oversized cookbooks filled with richly colored photographs for a best friend. They want to buy the best-reviewed books of the year beautifully bound in hardcover for their mother. (Books they might have waited to buy for themselves in paperback they are perfectly willing to buy in hardcover for their parents.) They want books with heft and substance that will last for a long time. Books that will look great on a shelf or a coffee table or a nightstand. Books that have some kind of significance. And all we have to do in the store is give them a gentle nudge in the right direction.

And what are my favorite books to recommend? JUST KIDS by Patti Smith is on the top of my list, especially in my Brooklyn neighborhood, which is full of so many creative souls. I recommend it often as a gift for a best friend or a beloved, supportive mother. We could all use a little inspiration every so often, and Smith’s vibrant memoir of her early days in New York City as an aspiring poet serves as a reminder that it’s more than OK to pursue your dreams. You can gently melt into JUST KIDS for a day or two, and then feel like a different person when you are done.

But I must confess I feel like I barely even have to sell in the last few days before Christmas. By the end I can just sort of point and murmur: “This is the hot cookbook of the season…this is the heartwarming memoir that makes everyone cry…this is the fresh-voiced novel that makes everyone laugh.” People lustfully stack up book after book, filled with a sense of glee. No one ever feels guilty when they buy books, especially if they’re for someone else. There’s nothing frivolous about it. I’m an enabler, I admit it. But it’s the best kind of drug around.