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World Book Day: An interview with Lutyens and Rubinstein's bookshop manager Tara Spinks

Ella
5th March 2019

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go – Dr. Seuss

Here at Bob Books we really value the importance of reading. The books you read as a child become imprinted forever and can make you smile years later. Books are more than just entertainment or a means to pass the time but can actually be powerful markers in our lives; a way to remember a holiday, a season, a year. World Book day recognises this too and is on a mission to give every child and young person a book of their own. It’s a celebration of authors, illustrators, books and (most importantly) it’s a celebration of reading, marked in over 100 countries all over the world.

Our head office is based just off Portobello Road, which means our local bookshop is the magical Lutyens and Rubinstein. Founded in 2009 by literary agents Sarah Lutyens and Felicity Rubinstein, it quickly built a loyal customer base and is now a treasured landmark of Notting Hill. The core stock was put together by canvassing hundreds of readers – writers, publishing contacts, friends (both adults and children) about which books they would most like to find in a bookshop. Every book stocked has its place because somebody loves it and has recommended it.

We spoke to bookshop co-manager Tara Spinks about running a bookshop and give you her top 5 book recommendations.

 

Can you tell me a bit about your role at Lutyens and Rubinstein?

I am a co-manager of the shop, with Claire. I look after events and accounts, including dealing with our suppliers. There are 4 of us, full and part time working in the shop.

It was first a literary agency by the same name, what kind of influence/impact did that have when it was first set up?

The influence that was most strong from the agency was that they wanted to see not only books from their clients but also books that they loved, and of course they were completely immersed in the publishing world, and in the world of books already. What was great though was that they asked hundreds of their friends and family to submit their 10 books that they would most like to find in a bookshop. So that was originally how we chose our stock. So as are a result we have books downstairs that you probably won't find in most other bookshops. So Claire is our buyer, she buys all the adult books, she’s continued that trend of finding books that we particularly love that you wouldn't normally find.

How involved are Sarah and Felicity now?

They work in the basement so we do see them a lot. We keep them down there without any light or air. Occasionally throw them a bone, or a book. They are still very much involved, there’s always a lot of back and forth, and we have regular team meetings, but when we first opened they were extremely hands on, involved in the day to day. Even now, everything we do, we do as a team.

As if on cue, Sarah (co-founder of Lutyens and Rubinstein) enters with a piece of cake for Tara.

It must be massively important for the agency to have feedback on what is selling and popular?

They are always interested to know what we’re doing well with, and certainly if they get a cover through from a publisher, they’ll come up and say what do you think, which colour is going to be more popular...We love having the agency clients’ launches here, we run events with them, so there's always a give and take between the two companies.

Who are your typical customers?

It’s a really wide range of people, I would say on the whole they’re generally very well-read. Local, on the whole but we do have people who come from further afield. There was a New York Times article probably 2 years ago, it was about shops that don’t have wifi, but they printed a really beautiful picture of the shop and we’ve since had a lot of americans coming in saying they read about us in the NYT. It was positive but it wasn't an especially positive piece, it said you’d be frightened to ask for the wifi password...

 

It’s World Book day coming up- it’s so important and a privilege for children to read be read to, do you think books are as important in kids lives as they used to be? Pre internet...

Our children section is on the mezzanine level. We work with some local schools to supply books for them. One of our local schools has quite a few authors coming in so we’ll supply the books for those events.

The kids that come in here, a lot of them have been coming in since they were born, and we’ve seen them grow into readers. It’s not the same experience reading on an ipad, and kids recognize that as much as adults do.

What do you think people would be surprised to learn about running a bookshop?

How much heavy lifting there is. I think people probably think running a bookshop means just sitting and reading all day.  Categorizing was a massive decision, upstairs we separate fiction and nonfiction, art and poetry. Downstairs it’s alphabetical by author, fiction and nonfiction.

Publishers have faced a lot of challenges and had to diversify since the rise of e-books etc, do you find you have also had to make changes to your business?  

We have only existed in the age of Amazon, so we have nothing to compare it with. Events are big for us, and we also have a subscription service, a year in books. We post out a book a month, and every book is personally chosen for each recipient. We have a detailed questionnaire that people fill out. We also run book clubs. As a bookshop, in terms of the way we run things, it’s not such a concern, people come to us because we’re experts, in a way.

Since you are surrounded by books, how do you decide what book to choose to read next?

Good question, I have such bad choice paralysis. It’s just gut instinct. I rely on recommendations from my colleagues, from customers, and we have really good sales reps who come in from the publishers and they will recommend books because they know us. Obviously you get a lot of free books..I read a lot, but not as much as Claire, who reads something like 8 books a week.

Gasp.

 

And just lastly what are your top 5 picks for World Book Day?

Ten Fat Sausages – Michelle Robinson

A hilarious take on the traditional counting rhyme, what if the sausages don’t stay sizzling in the pan, but make a break for it instead!

The Order of the Day – Eric Vuillard

This French novel imagines the pivotal meetings on the brink of World War Two between European leaders. An absolutely fascinating read.

Out of Thin Air – Anthony Adeane

Just out in paperback, this account of a true-life murder in Iceland is a gripper for fans of Serial and Making of a Murderer.  

Family Happiness – Laurie Colwin

Not currently in print in the UK, we import this wonderful novel from the States so that it’s always on hand to recommend.

Photographers on Photography – Henry Caroll

A must-read for anyone who enjoys picking up a camera, this book features top tips from some of the world’s leading photographers, including Ansel Adams and Gillian Wearing.

We'll be giving all these books away on our instagram from the 7th of March so make sure to follow us here to enter.