Last week, Third Place Books Seward Park manager Eric McDaniel said he liked having a mix of experienced booksellers and relative novices on staff. At least one of those new booksellers, though, isn’t new to the world of books: though Seward Park is the only bookstore where she’s worked, Naomi possesses an impressive resume including stints as a manager of the circulation desk at Yale libraries, and as a humanities professor. She holds a PhD in comparative literature.
“It’s great to be surrounded by books,” Naomi says when I ask how working at Seward Park has been. “It seems like a fairly easy move.” But she knows that there’s a difference between bookselling in a general interest bookstore and the world of academia. “I’m curious to see how my relationship to literature and books will change,” she says. “I think it will be fun to read more broadly.” Naomi’s interests are primarily “literature and philosophy and art. I read a fair amount of literary autobiographies and essays, but I definitely read a lot of fiction.” She’s especially interested in fiction in translation, which was one of her favorite subjects to teach.
Naomi’s recommendations are uniformly intelligent and passionate. In just a matter of minutes, she mentions Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, Walter Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood Around 1900, Bruno Schulz’s Street of Crocodiles, and, most especially, W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. She likes Sebald, she says “because he’s between genres. He didn’t call them novels, he said they were prose fictions, and they wander from subject to subject,” like a “fictionalized history, I guess.”
Visual art interests Naomi, and she especially likes how Sebald “incorporates photographs” into his work. She’s also deeply interested in the process of writing and of art, and how people’s different attitudes toward the creation of art affect the art itself.
It’s pretty obvious after just fifteen minutes of talking to Naomi that she’s an intellectual who is interested in intellectual pursuits. But it’s a highly inclusive appreciation of smart literature; she doesn’t make you feel dumb for not hearing about a classical author. She’s so enthusiastic about these books, and so eager to share her appreciation, that you’ll want to read the book just to understand and take part in that enthusiasm. In other words, she’s got this bookselling thing down.