We’re looking for a bookseller and marketing executive to join our small and friendly team. It’s a full-time job working Sunday to Thursday, with a roughly half-half split of bookselling and marketing responsibilities.
The successful candidate will have excellent Adobe Photoshop skills and will have experience managing a social media account for a business or other organisation.
Think that’s you? Know someone who would be perfect? Spread the word.
All the info is here. The deadline for applications is 5pm on 14th Feb.
Coming up at Backstory
Wednesday 21st February, 7.30pm
One of Tom’s favourite social historians returns with a lively portrait of Edwardian Britain. Think music halls and the real Peaky Blinders, with the First World War just around the corner.
Wednesday 28th February, 7.30pm
Picked by The Times as one of its environment books of the year, journalist Louise Gray tracks the story of our food from farm to fruit bowl, asking what impact our voracious appetites have on the planet.
Wednesday 13th March, 7.30pm
Bone-tired, anxious and overwhelmed, the author of Wintering sought to feel more connected and at ease by exploring the restorative properties of the natural world and reawakening her sense of wonder.
Wednesday 27th March, 7.30pm
Dubbed “the Wolf of Wall Street with a moral compass”, Gary Stevenson was a bank’s most profitable trader before winning started to feel like losing. In this “confession”, he delves into the uncomfortable realities behind how he was making all that money.
SOLD OUT: Bryony Gordon — Mad Woman
Monday 12th February, 7.30pm
SOLD OUT: Cathy Newman — The Ladder
Tuesday 19th March, 7.30pm
Coming up at the Non-Fiction Book Club: Henry Marsh (And Finally), Maria Ressa (How To Stand Up To A Dictator), Tania Branigan (Red Memory)
Coming up at the Fiction Book Club: Eliza Clark (Boy Parts), Tomasz Jedrowski (Swimming in the Dark)
Our book of the month
Vladivostok Circus by Elisa Shua Dusapin (translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins)
This is one of those books that spread like wildfire through the team. Megan read it first and raved about it. Then Darby vouched for it. By the time Denise gave it the nod, I’d already decided it should be our book of the month. So I’m pretty glad I ended up loving it too.
It’s oddly mesmerising. I started it on Friday morning and was so drawn in I stayed after my shift to read more as a customer at the Backstory bar, sitting with a glass of red in the comfy solo armchair in the niche between new releases and “backlist” non-fiction. When I woke early on Saturday, rather than rolling over I was so keen to finish it that I read in bed with a cuppa until my alarm went off. Unprecedented.
Here’s what the team says about it:
Vladivostok Circus is a delicate high-wire act: balancing the mundanity of life behind the scenes with the death-defying stunts that unfurl in front of you in the big top. As much about the people as the show itself, this novel twists and backflips around ideas of loneliness, collaboration, and costume design. Beautiful, empathetic writing.
THE BEST BIT of doing paperwork downstairs is when whoever is on the till is so amused or flabbergasted by their latest customer interaction that they feel the need to hurry down the stairs to relate it. So it was one day last week with Amy, who reported an exchange in which a woman had enquired after an expensive (and therefore presumably niche and/or imported) paperback.
“We could order it, but it would be £18.99,” Amy had warned her. “HOW MUCH?” boomed the woman, before looking it up on a certain popular website where it was listed a few pennies cheaper. “Well, can you order it from Amazon for me?” Let’s just say that Amy was unimpressed.
It got me thinking, not for the first time, about the ubiquity of Amazon. Since opening the shop, I’ve largely avoided it. Partly that’s because I spend more time than I used to thinking about the unfair advantages that Amazon is afforded relative to a new business like Backstory. They’re supposed to pay the same share of corporation tax, but, well… it would be nice if Amazon met the taxman with the same smile it puts on its boxes.
Partly it’s because I’m aware that I’m offering customers an alternative, albeit in one small corner of Amazon’s vast range. So I want to see how viable that alternative actually is, not just for books but for everything. How much of a faff is it to live without Amazon?
Mostly, though, it’s because I’ve simply lost the habit. Looking through my account history on the site, it becomes pretty clear that I mostly ordered there in the past through a mixture of convenience, boredom and sheer laziness. Like an alarming number of us (judging by my street’s incessant parade of white vans and sack trolleys), I was an addict.
Unsurprisingly, my orders peaked in the Plague Year. Fair enough, but did I really need to order more than every other day? And did I honestly need everything I ordered? In the case of “Extreme Pet Stain and Odour Remover”, the answer is absolutely, yes. “Notes From Another Meeting That Should Have Been An Email” was obviously a hilarious and in no way passive aggressive gift. The “Puzzle Storage Mat” is a sorry memorial to way too many solo lockdown evenings.
But was “Mystic Moments: Lavender Essential Oil” really that essential? And couldn’t I have done with a (socially-distanced) stroll to the Post Office for my pack of 100 1st class stamps?
A lot of orders — light bulbs, printer paper — fall into the “boring but useful” category. Many, though, tell a story of waste and over-consumption. I might have needed the extreme pet stain thingy once, but I certainly didn’t need to have it auto-delivered every two months. As for “Ultrasport F-bike and F-rider”, I could probably have realised that anything with “ultrasport” in the title was not my perfect match. (See also “Aquasport Protective Water Shoes”.) But obviously I didn’t pause for reflection. I just hit “one-click checkout”.
My purchases in 2022 tell their own story. In March that year, I ordered the sort of things you might want if you’re setting up a business from your bedroom: a hole-puncher, a postage-label printer. Go back a month or two and it was audiobooks of Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell and Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill (which I made my friends listen to as I drove to a countryside walk the weekend I quit my job. Sorry, Ben and Jonny).
Since then, it’s been hardly anything. And, well, it’s not been hard at all. The only slip-ups in 2023 were a particular type of cable for our receipt printer that the guy from our bookshop software company sent an Amazon link to buy (naughty!) and audiobooks to listen to on long car journeys. (I’d particularly recommend The Good Mothers by Alex Perry — his fascinating and well-told account of the women who took on the ‘Ndrangheta mafia.)
I still buy lots of things online, but just go to Google to search for them rather than Amazon. Most of the time, there are plenty of alternative suppliers only too willing to get what you want to you, in double-quick time. (Not that I can claim to have eliminated waste: last week, it took me four attempts to order the right replacement till rolls. The first pack was tiny, the second was too narrow, the third was the wrong texture, resulting in lots of beeping from the printer. But yeah, I think that says more about me than about online shopping.)
Interestingly the one thing I didn’t spot many of going back through my old orders was books. I always preferred to go to real bookshops (sometimes a chain, sometimes my local indie). Maybe this was partly a value choice (supporting indies and the high street), but it was largely a selfish one: I just loved bookshops so much, I’d devise any excuse to spend more time in them. If I needed a book for work, I wouldn’t order it from Amazon, I’d stroll up to Stanfords in my lunch break.
But I know that sometimes it’s highly convenient to order books online, too. And you can’t all be lucky enough to live round the corner from Backstory (or even within a reasonable distance of any bookshop).
So why not give the alternative a go yourself? To help wean you off Amazon (or another bookshop website) and give ours ago, we already offer free delivery throughout the UK. But here’s an extra incentive: use JEFFDOESNTNEEDIT at the checkout for 10% off any online order of £25 or more this month (online only; not valid on gift vouchers, book clubs or events; expires 29th February 2024).
Here are a few ideas:
Vladivostok Circus Our book of the month. See our write-up above.
Piglet by Lottie Hazell An original debut novel with Piglet facing an uncomfortable truth about her soon-to-be husband. Should she ‘follow the recipe’ of their perfect life or indulge her appetites? Denise
Come and Get It by Kiley Reid A professor in the midst of a messy break-up moves to a Southern US university and quickly becomes entangled in the lives of a handful of students. A slow-burn campus novel for our times. Tom
Green Dot by Madeleine Gray Both moving and funny, 24-year-old Hera confides in us as she discovers life doesn’t always go to plan. Denise
The Moth and the Mountain by Ed Caesar Ed was the latest guest at our non-fiction book club this week and this book was such a treat. It’s the slim (200-page) but substantial story of a marvellously eccentric First World War veteran who set himself the task of flying to Mt Everest and then climbing it alone. Such a gripping tale, told by one of England’s finest contemporary non-fiction writers. Tom
Browse our round-up of new releases
Join our 2024 reading challenge
Frankly, we could use the business. TS Eliot had April down as the cruellest month, but then he never saw our February till printouts.