Christine Onorati opened the first WORD Bookstore in Brooklyn in 2007. After quickly building a hard-core fan base that extends far beyond Kings County and Manhattan, she opened a second WORD in nearby Jersey City in 2013. Onorati talked with Kirkus about nonsnooty booksellers, the reading habits of youngsters, and this year’s BookCon.
How would you describe WORD Bookstores to the uninitiated?
I used to say that WORD was a small but very mighty bookstore, but now that we have a second location that’s actually a decent size, I can’t really say that anymore. But I do still think of us as small in stature but with a big personality: we have smart, knowledgeable booksellers who take their jobs very seriously and value bookselling as a career. They welcome anyone and everyone who wants to talk about books of any kind. We strive to be the exact opposite of the snooty, pretentious bookstore that was so prevalent at one time. We work with schools in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and New Jersey, planning book fairs and author visits; we have several subscription programs that allow customers to get hand-picked books from both our amazing staff as well as authors we love; and much, much more.
If WORD were a religion, what would be its icons and tenets?
Haha, I love this question. I guess we’d be nondenominational, open to all, happy to proselytize to anyone who will listen about the last great book we read, and happy to help them find their next favorite. “Don’t judge thy neighbor because they read romance or sci-fi” would be our one commandment.
Which was your favorite event and why?
Yikes, that’s a hard one. There have been so many I’ve loved for different reasons. Our first event in Jersey City with B.J. Novak was so fun, and I was just so happy that we were finally open and could comfortably fit 200 people in the store. We hosted an adults-only Harry Potter party in Brooklyn for the last book, which was our first real event, and it was packed and completely bananas. I’ll always remember that one.
What trends are you noticing among young readers?
Thankfully, we see that young people still really like to read and buy books. People have always said to me, “You’re in Brooklyn, of course people buy books, everyone there is rich.” Which wasn’t true of our Greenpoint neighborhood at all. It was always full of young people who didn’t have a ton of extra cash but who really valued books and therefore made a point to put their hard-earned money toward books. And when we sold books at BookCon this year, I was so happy to see the throngs of young kids waiting on line to meet and connect with their favorite authors. So I’m hopeful that reading is still an integral part of young people’s lives. I hope it’s a sign that books are here to stay, at least for a while.
What are some of the bookstores’ top current handsells?
I can’t talk enough about A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It’s probably the most heartbreaking and incredible book I’ve read in 10 years. In the stores, we’re raving about The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell in paperback; we’re huge fans of his. We’re also talking about The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard, The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg, and a picture book called This Is Sadie by Sara O’Leary. I can name 100 more, but that’s a start.
Karen Schechner is the senior Indie Editor.