Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The King's English: Adventures of an Independent Bookseller by Betsy Burton

Independent booksellers, as portrayed by Betsy Burton of the King’s English Bookstore in Salt Lake City, have much in common with librarians. They love books in a big way and recommend them to their readers. They create public performance programs around the books they stock. They hire employees based on their public service attitudes. They fight against the U.S. Patriot Act provisions that allow federal agents to secretly examine their client records. They have a lot of fun and often feel very satisfied at the end of the day. See the affinity?

Betsy Burton appears to have written The King’s English: Adventures of an Independent Bookseller to celebrate the bookstore’s twenty-fifth anniversary in 2003, though the book was just published in 2005. Many of the chapters end with booklists highlighting favorite fiction, mystery, poetry, nonfiction, western, natural history, and children’s’ titles from the stores first twenty-five years. I am copying some of these lists myself for personal reading and checking whether my library still has the books. She ends the book with more lists from fellow independent booksellers across the country, including Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, and Anderson’s Bookshops in Naperville and Downers Grove.

Every chapter of the book deals with a genre of books and with bookstore management topics that correspond in some way. The relationship can at times be rather loose, as Burton includes some interesting stories about her problems with business partners, about attempts by fanatics to censor books in Utah schools, and about employees’ romances (employee-employee and employee-customer). She includes many stories about arranging and holding author book signings and public readings in the store or in borrowed auditoriums. Some of the stories, especially the tale of the snowy weekend driving mystery writer John Mortimer around in her mother’s car, are quiet funny. Isabelle Allende, E. L. Doctorow, Sue Grafton, Elizabeth George, Tony Hillerman, and Tomie de Paola are just a few of the authors who have visited the King's English.

What librarians and other readers should note are the creative solutions Burton and her staff apply to their unforeseen problems, such an important shipment of Harry Potter books being delayed the day before release. I enjoyed The King’s English and am eager to read some recommended books.

Burton, Betsy. The King’s English: Adventures of an Independent Bookseller. Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith, 2005. ISBN 1586856871

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