Here at Libro.fm, we wanted to hear from booksellers around the country about how they and their bookstores were coping with the effects of the pandemic. For this series, we spoke with Cristina Rodriguez—one of the booksellers hired by Libro.fm in their effort to help indie booksellers—as well as a bookseller and General Manager at Deep Vellum Books in Dallas, Texas.
Could you give us a brief overview of your career in bookselling?
I’ve been working at Deep Vellum Books for three years now as the General Manager. I’m responsible for all operations which includes coordinating events, social media/marketing, ordering, and curating the book selection. By no means do I have a traditional book background and to this day, it still surprises me that bookselling became my career. I didn’t grow up in a house full of books and at one point I wasn’t even sure if I was going to go to college. However, somehow bookselling found me and I honestly believe I’m right where I belong.
How has the pandemic affected your bookstore?
Like many of our bookstore friends, we are currently closed to the public. We’ve had to shift to processing online orders, very limited curbside pick up hours, and have created a bookseller hotline where people can call or text to get book recommendations, life advice, daily horoscopes, or really just talk about whatever they want. Bookselling but with a twist.
What does your bookstore offer your local community?
We’re a community-driven space and host monthly events with authors, poets, and musicians. We also have rotating writing workshops, and several QPOC centered events. We like to encourage our community to pitch event ideas and really just want the space to feel welcoming and inclusive to everyone.
Are there ways in which your community has eased the difficulties brought on by Covid-19?
I think the support we’ve seen online, as well people’s willingness to order books from us instead of immediately jumping to Amazon, has really helped with morale and shows how important bookstores are to communities.
What’s been helping you to cope, not necessarily as a bookseller, but on a personal level?
I have a weekly happy hour with some friends that also work in the book industry. We talk about movies, share Spotify playlists, and talk about anything but work. Having this weekly routine really helps me relax and feel like there’s some slight normalcy in my schedule.
Have any great reads been getting you through this?
I always love to re-read Roland Barthe’s Mourning Diary when everything feels uncertain. I think this book in particular really captures the feeling of sadness in a way that can be difficult to express. Jazmina Barrera’s book On Lighthouses has also helped me through quarantine. It’s an absolutely stunning and meditative book on lighthouses and everyday observations that will make you find beauty in solitude.
What audiobooks are you listening to during this time?
I own all of Samantha Irby’s audiobooks. I love that she narrates them herself. Her writing is complete escapism for me. She’s probably the only writer that can make me laugh out loud and cry uncontrollably within the same essay collection.
Note: Check out Libro.fm’s Author Interview with Samantha Irby here.
What are your hopes for the bookstore community on the other side of the pandemic?
On the other side of this pandemic, my hope is that we continue to find innovative ways to engage and communicate with readers. Event spaces should be more accessible. Staffing in both publishing and bookselling should be diverse and inclusive. And above all, we should be demanding a livable wage and healthcare benefits for everyone.
What can we do now to help independent bookstores?
The short answer is to continue buying books and gift cards from your local brick-and-mortar bookstore. Every purchase truly helps with making sure that we can sustain and continue on after this pandemic. We really do appreciate any kind of support that is offered, even if it’s sharing our social media page or just sending a nice email.
An alternative question that I think about constantly is, What can we do as booksellers to help our community through this pandemic? I know that in the book world, everything feels challenging and 3x harder than it used to be. I hope that my colleagues (and myself) remember that a big part of why we do what we do is to connect and support people in ways that Amazon and other corporate retail could never do.