Booksellers Rock! Lanora Hurley, Next Chapter Bookshop

Hey, whadda ya know, it’s the second installment of “Booksellers Rock!,” our series of profiles of independent booksellers. Today we hear from Lanora Hurley, owner of Next Chapter Bookshop in beautiful Milwaukee, WI. (Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!) Want to know just how awesome Lanora is? Months before publication, she created an incredible diorama for Emma Donoghue’s ROOM that sits at the front of her bookstore; here’s video footage of the author seeing the diorama for the first time.

What books recently rocked my world:
ROOM by Emma Donoghue
REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly
WEST OF HERE by Jonathan Evison
MATCHED by Allyson Condie
MOVIEGOER by Walker Percy
VERONICA by Nicholas Christopher
SO COLD THE RIVER by Michael Koryta
MR. TOPPIT by Charles Elton

I guess I will stop there … but there’s more! I guess my world is easily rocked by books?

Best damn event we’ve hosted:
Oooh! I have to choose one? In that case it would have to be Annie Barrows for the paperback release of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society … only because I SURVIVED! Annie was flying from Minneapolis to Milwaukee that day for the event and her flight got canceled due to bad weather. Not just bad weather. Especially bad weather. The entire country was clear and calm except for the huge band of violent thunderstorms tracking from (wait for it … ) Minneapolis to Milwaukee! I had 350 people sitting in the store waiting for her to arrive. We had frantic calls back and forth between her publicist and the store, and were trying everything in our power to get her on another flight. After a couple of nail-biting hours, we managed to get her to town and to the store, but not after I had been going up in front of the crowd every 10 minutes to tell stories and try to keep people calm and entertained.  I was about to break out the charades. Annie finally made it one hour and 15 minutes late, put on a FANTASTIC performance and everyone loved her. You never would have known that she just had the worst travel experience ever. She even stayed late to sign everyone’s books.  We always give one of our store T-shirts to our visiting authors as a thank you, and when she received hers that night she said, “Oh thank you!  Now I have some pajamas!”  Her luggage was still in Minneapolis. I wrote a blog post about this event with more details.

Most entertaining author we’ve hosted:
Hands down Wisconsin’s own Michael Perry. When you open your talk discussing different kinds of “snot rockets,” you know it’s going to be an entertaining evening.  And if you’re thinking to yourself, “There are different kinds?” then you’ve never lived in a state where the wind chill factors can be -20 degrees.

Strangest question a customer has ever asked:

I did have someone call me and ask if we had any books on “geriatric intercourse.” After I spent a good 5 minutes trying to help as graciously as I could, I find out that the person on the other line was actually none other than Craig Popelars. (Thanks again, Craig). Evidently I’m a little gullible. That answer might not count since I guess Craig is not a customer, though if he ever does come in the store I have a plan for payback. I did have someone once who was absolutely indignant with me because not only did I not carry any books about collecting pink lawn flamingos, I couldn’t find one in print to order.  I mean really! How could there NOT be books about collecting pink lawn flamingos?!

It’s a tie between that, and the woman who came back into the kids’ section and stood staring at the hardcover picture books, looking up at the sign above the section and then the books on the shelf for a quite a few minutes before asking, “Where are the books WITH words?”

My Grandmother’s Bookstore circa 1978

What makes our neighborhood and customers awesome:
My store is located between the locally owned and operated grocery store chain (since 1926!) and the locally owned restaurant chain (since 1972). I would argue I have the most awesome customers in the whole world. I will give you examples: Six of my customers invested substantial amounts of money in the store so that I could continue the bookselling tradition in the community when Harry W. Schwartz closed. When one of my customers heard that I might not be able to afford to go to Winter Institute, he donated his frequent flyer miles to me and bought me a ticket. When we recently had one of the worst thunderstorms in recent history and half the city was flooded, one of my customers took in one of my booksellers for the night because she couldn’t get home. I know hundreds of them by name. I know their kids’ names. I know who’s sick and who’s doing well and whose son is coming home from Afghanistan next week. They are not just my customers; they are my friends.

I promise you won’t find this at any other store:
1. We still have the Snitch hanging in a secret location in the store from the scavenger hunt from the very FIRST Harry Potter party in the store. Occasionally I still move it to mess with the kids.
2. We have a store mascot named Mooshie, who is a puppet that likes to dress up for story time and is kind of an annoying diva. When the store switched ownership Mooshie put in an application for a job saying that if he wasn’t allowed to continue working in the store, the store would absolutely fail because he’s the reason people come in. This is 100% true, I swear. He’d give J-Lo a run for her money in the diva department, and that’s the way he likes it.
3. We have this ugly beat-up chair on wheels with gaudy flowered upholstery that we refuse to get rid of because it’s Rosemary’s favorite chair, and Rosemary has been buying books at this location since before I graduated from college.

If I weren’t selling books, I’d be:
Dead. Ok, that’s a little melodramatic.  Ummmmm … I have no idea! This is all I have EVER wanted to do with my life. My grandmother owned a bookstore, and I’ve worked in bookstores my whole life.  I guess if I had to make a wild guess, I might consider being an archeologist … but only if it were the sexy adventurous Indiana Jones type and not the, “I just spent the whole day moving one inch of dirt with a tiny paint brush type.”

Books that changed my life:

In order:
Trixie Beldon (the entire series got me hooked on reading)

The Tower of Geburah by John White (The first work of fantasy I ever read and I was so entranced I immediately started the book over the second I finished it.  I loved it, wanted more and went on to discover C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and many, many more.)

The Color Purple by Alice Walker (The first book that made me cry and I realized that books could be more than just entertainment. They could be food for the soul.)

Gold Cell by Sharon Olds (The first book of poetry I bought, read, and loved. It made me realize that poetry was much more than just old white guys rhyming about nature or pretty women.)

The ABA’s Manual on Bookselling. (Yeah, I know. But if we’re talking life changing, that book showed me that people actually OWN bookstores and that it just might be possible for me to actually DO it. It allowed me to dream big.)

Top three authors, living or dead, I’d invite to my dinner party:
Since dead authors rarely are very good conversationalists I think I’ll choose three  living ones.  (I had to narrow it down somehow!)

Michael Perry, David Sedaris, and Steve Martin

I have no desire to be erudite or profound at a dinner party. I just want to laugh so hard there’s the risk of my drink coming out my nose.  You know what would even be better?  Having these three paired up with some bookselling folks.  Can you imagine how the evening would go if you had Daniel Goldin next to David Sedaris, Craig Popelars next to Steve Martin, and Chuck Robinson next to Michael Perry?  I think my head would explode.

Top three songs on the soundtrack to my life:
I am going to qualify this and say these are the top three to my life RIGHT NOW.  If I had to do my whole life then it could get really embarrassing and I don’t know how many people remember that “Mah Na Mah Na” song from The Muppets anyway.

Miracle Drug – U2
Pale Moon – Shannon McNally
Read My Mind – The Killers

My last meal request:
Why do last requests have to be about food?  I mean seriously.  If I were about to die, the LAST thing I’d be doing would be eating.  However, since I guess food is a safe topic I will comply: Mexican!  Guacamole, chips, multiple types of salsa … some hot. Fajitas!  Oh, and keep the raspberry margaritas coming.

2 Comments On This Post:

October 14, 2010
11:42 pm
Cherie Burbach says...

Great interview, Lanora! Loved the picture of your grandma’s bookstore.

April 5, 2011
3:20 am
HC One says...

Great Post Lanora! and Interview

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