Reading is a lifestyle

What Should I Read Next episode 328: the journey to becoming a friendly neighborhood bookseller.

a bookstore with a large window looking out at a street, with the word "bookstore" on the glass

Readers, if you’ve ever dreamed of opening a bookstore, you’re going to love our show today.

Today’s episode features a delightful conversation with Abbigail Glen, the owner of Shelves, an online and pop-up bookstore based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Abby’s worked hard to bring her vision to life and create a bookstore and reading community where reading truly is a lifestyle, and I had so much fun talking with her about the process.

Abby grew up in southwest Philadelphia, where she had a pivotal reading experience as a young reader, and her passion for books was born. I loved hearing about Abby’s discovery of the power of reading, her journey to opening a bookstore, how she made this dream come true, and why it doesn’t look exactly how she thought it might.

We also talk about the books Abby picks for her reading subscription program and how she makes these decisions, why she’s jealous of middle grade readers right now, and the three books she just can’t stop recommending. We’d love to hear if you’ve read any of these books—tell us in the comments!

Listen to What Should I Read Next? on Apple PodcastsSpotify, or your preferred podcast app—or scroll down to press play and listen right in your web browser.


What Should I Read Next #328: Reading is a lifestyle, with Abbigail Glen

Find Abby online at the Shelves Bookstore website, Instagram, or Facebook page.

ABBIGAIL: Some of the books that these middle graders and stuff get to like read and the effort that’s being put into these stories, I’m like man, y’all are getting quality. [ANNE LAUGHS]

[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]

ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 328.

Welcome to the show that’s dedicated to answering the question that plagues every reader: What should I read next?

We don’t get bossy on this show: What we WILL do here is give you the information you need to choose your next read. Every week we’ll talk all things books and reading, and do a little literary matchmaking with one guest.

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Inspired by our show, each week I share three things I love, one thing I don’t, and what I’m reading now—although sometimes, let’s be honest, given the state of the world lately, I’ve been focusing on things bringing readers joy and perhaps skipped over the bummer sort of news some weeks.

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Readers, today’s guest firmly believes that reading is a lifestyle—and she’s created a bookstore experience and reading community that fulfills this motto.

Abbigail Glen grew up in southwest Philadelphia and had a life-changing reading experience as a young adult that set her on her current path. Today, she lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she owns the online and pop-up bookstore Shelves. I loved hearing about Abby’s journey to opening a bookstore, how she made this dream come true, and why it doesn’t look exactly how she once thought it might. If you’ve ever dreamed of opening a bookstore or wondered what it might be like to do so you’ll hear so many fascinating details in today’s conversation.

Abby and I chat about the book that changed her life, the riches of the middle grade genre in 2022, and what it takes for a book to find its way to the right reader. Abby also shares three tantalizing recommendations for titles she can’t help recommending to every reader right now. I had so much fun talking with Abby; I think you will be delighted by our conversation, too.

Let’s get to it.

Abbigail, welcome to the show.

[00:03:03]

ABBIGAIL: Thank you for having me.

ANNE: It’s my pleasure. I’m so excited. Now you know that one of our big values here at What Should I Read Next HQ is bookish delight and enthusiasm and that reading isn’t just something you do as part of your life, but that it permeates your entire life. You run Shelves bookstore, and at Shelves you have the motto, “reading is a lifestyle.” And you refer to yourself as Charlotte’s friendly neighborhood bookseller. I’m so excited to talk to you today about all the details of how you started your business and what it’s like to recommend books to a community face-to-face in ways that are sometimes unconventional.

[00:03:38]

ABBIGAIL: Yes, I’m excited as well, and yes, I do call myself Charlotte’s friendly neighborhood bookseller and it has stuck.

ANNE: Before we get into the details, tell me this: have you always been a reader?

ABBIGAIL: Always been a reader for as long as I can remember. You know, I grew up in southwest Philadelphia and I distinctly remember us having this cabinet on our indoor front porch area, like the foyer area where we had all these books and a lot of the books at that time were books that were full of multiple stories, multiple children’s story rhymes and I feel like by the time I came into the picture, I’m her second child, they were already there ‘cause we also were a home that had a full encyclopedia set so …

ANNE: Ooh.

ABBIGAIL: And I know people probably don’t even know what an encyclopedia is, but …

ANNE: [LAUGHS] I’m old enough to know.

ABBIGAIL: Those were always there and we definitely utilize our local library a lot, too. So I’ve always just been someone that enjoyed books. I don’t know if it just simply was like being drawn to the browsing experience because I do still to this day enjoy browsing the library, even as a bookseller. It’s very hard for me to walk into a library and not just wanna browse. I know the library offers so many services, you know, you can use their computers. You can … So many things, but like it’s very hard for me to not walk the aisles and browse and look at the books. The experience of it. I’ve always enjoyed the experience of getting a new book, even if it’s something I have to return later.

ANNE: I’d love to hear a few more books on your shelf from when you were young. What nurtured your love of reading back then?

ABBIGAIL: When I was innocent in mind and spirit [ANNE LAUGHS] I enjoyed [LAUGHS] Roald Dahl. He’s the author of Matilda and James and the Giant Peach. I also read … Who was that … Berenstain Bears had a couple of chapter books. Not a lot ‘cause they were mostly picture books, but they did come out with a couple of chapter books, so that was in my honestly, my early middle grade years, and then eighth grade I read this book called Flyy Girl.

I don’t remember how I came across Flyy Girl, but I read it and I remember it changed my life because it was first book that I saw myself and the girls in my neighborhood, and people talk about representation. That at the time, I wouldn’t have used the term representation not because I didn’t know what it mean, it’s just not the word that folks were using to describe seeing themselves in a book, at least not that I knew of, and, but Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree. It was based in Philly, and so it really did speak to the experiences of growing up as a, you know, young, Black woman in the inner city, like you know, and Philly really does not have an outer city. Philly is Philly.

But to this day, like Flyy Girl, I always tell people that was the thing that kept me reading. Because it’s not that I would have strayed away from reading, but I’ve been a reading buddy before for the local library here and I do tell people that what a child reads in middle school will determine a lot of times if they end up continuing to read into high school because middle grade is such a transitionary period for kids. It’s like that pre-adolescence, but they’re still very much a young child. And so I used to encourage parents like you should really let your child read what they want to read that’s obviously age appropriate, but if it’s a graphic novel, let it be a graphic novel because by you trying to dictate what you think they should read, I said you could really deter a child from the beauty of reading, because reading is supposed to be an experience that everyone can enjoy, so by you telling a child or a person that, you know, a book can only be a book if it's formatted this way and if it has chapters that start from one … You don’t mean any harm, but you could be doing some harm.

ANNE: I appreciate those words for our listeners and I’m so glad you weren’t deterred from your love of reading at that stage.

ABBIGAIL: No, I was not.

ANNE: After you read Flyy Girl, how did that influence your expectations of what a book could be?

ABBIGAIL: We call it, you know, in the Black community a hood classic. It was amazing. It was too grown for me at eighth grade, but baby, that just opened the door. Oh, after that I was reading all types of … They deemed it urban fiction at the time. There really wasn’t a young adult genre that we knew of, so honestly you were kinda stuck. I’m glad that that was my turning point for sticking to reading because it really just helped me wrap my head around the experience of adolescence.

There was a point at my adulthood where I remember looking up the statistics in Philly as far as just like you know the different groups of people there, ethnic groups, race, minority, and the reason why I did this is because growing up, you know, I didn’t have an experience where I was the only. That experience happened for me in college being the only Black student in a room, and Philly that was never the case. I always went to schools where Black kids were the majority. Reading books like Flyy Girl and a lot of the books that, you know, I read as a result of the Black Expressions Subscription I signed up for actually gave me a greater appreciation for storytelling by, you know, Black authors and what our experiences are no matter where we are in the country or in the world.

Had I continued to only, like, read books that never spoke to my experience as a Black child, then later Black woman, I actually think that would have harmed my viewpoint than helped it because then I wouldn’t be able to say to my customer like I know how important it is to see yourself on the page. Again at the time, I didn’t make such a big deal out of it because I wasn’t necessarily looking for myself on the page. You’re not … I didn’t know that’s what I needed to look for. I stumbled upon Flyy Girl. Again, I forgot how, but I stumbled upon it and then it wasn’t until I became an adult and again I started reading all kinds of stuff. I said well man, I’m really glad that, you know, the thing that kept me reading was a book about you know, a young Black girl in Philly, and then all books after that about other Black women and men growing up in inner cities and or places that were predominately Black because it really helped me understand the importance now when you hear marginalized groups say wow, you know, I never read a book and saw myself on the page because I know what it’s like to see myself on the page being 13. I would be like oh, yeah. Ooh, yeah, that is important. Like I probably wouldn’t be able to say that as a bookseller like without, you know, it more being a political thing, like that’s the right thing to say. No, I know what that truly means. That actually had a big impact on my decision to continue being a reader.

My reading palette has changed. So I like reading, you know, a lot of different things and getting exposure, but I will always know that my decision to be on even the path that I’m on came out of the fact that at that turning point years I picked up something that happened to be filled, the pages were filled with a Black girl that looked like me and I didn’t realize the impact that would have until now here I am at 33. Like I just feel like there’s so much good stuff out there. We didn’t have all this when I was growing up. Some of the books these middle graders and stuff get to like read and the effort that’s being put into these stories, I’m like man, y’all are getting quaaalityyy. [ANNE LAUGHS] And I’m thankful that I had a mom who from a very young age always gave me a choice to go to the library, a choice to participate in a book fair and pick what I wanted up. My mom was just very happy to see me reading.

[00:11:18]

ANNE: As hard as it is to look around and go like, where was this when I was growing up? There’s also something that feels really good about that, too. Especially I imagine, in your line of work.

ABBIGAIL: Yes. When it comes to the young adults and stuff like that, I do … let that child pick up that book. Please do. Let them pick up that book.

ANNE: I chuckled at what you wrote to us about how you [ABBIGAIL LAUGHS] were a member of a book club in high school. Not a book club, but a book subscription.

ABBIGAIL: Yes. When we were growing up, we got – my mom got Jet magazine and I loooved Jet. Jet was this small, Black publication, little small magazine. It looks like a mass market paperback book, that kinda small but just a little bit bigger. At some point over the course of my young life of pursuing these magazines, I came across an insert about a monthly book subscription called Black Expressions. Now I have no idea if Black Expressions was limited to one magazine publication or if it was just a service that was advertised in various Black magazines.

Either way, I was impressed and I filled it out. I was raised by a single mother. My father was in the picture, he just wasn’t present all the time, and so he would support us financially when he remembered to, and we would say that money … that’s how I had a little bank account, and I believe that was how I was paying for it. Books used to come for me and doing like a book swap with my girlfriends after school every month, and it was such a great experience.

ANNE: I love the mental image of young Abbigail [ABBIGAIL LAUGHS] just checking the mailbox going is today the day? Is my book here? Is my book here?

So it’s clear that you’re talking to people all the time who really value reading and want to do it for themselves as a lifestyle, but also like to pass that on to the next generation in their lives and in their neighborhoods …

ABBIGAIL: Yes.

ANNE: Which is so wonderful, and I imagine that all you’ve been saying about reading right now and what it means in the place it can and should have in our lives permeates the way that you choose books that others read because you chose them, which is you know, a privilege I imagine and a big responsibility. So let’s fast forward a little bit to the present day when you own and operate an online and pop-up bookstore called Shelves. I’m sure we could talk all day about this question. [ABBIGAIL LAUGHS] I’d love to hear how this business came to be.

[00:13:38]

ABBIGAIL: Pre-coming to Charlotte, so I’ve been living in Charlotte for six years. I moved down here in March of 2016 in a little rental car. I used to work in HR. I was an HR business partner. I had always said to myself that I wanted to open a bookstore. That would always be in the back of my mind; however, I chose to prioritize paying off debt instead because I said if I do the bookstore, or do any big life event, you know, in the future, being debt free would be a big, big, big springboard for me instead of having to you know, how to juggle, you know, managing a small business and you know, paying back student loans because technically Shelves is my second small business.

I had a little small business called Mustard Seed Career Professionals where I would help people with their resume writing and all that stuff and it was a good way to, you know, just test the waters of running a small business at a very, very, very low scale, figuring out if I had what it takes to kinda you know, maintain customer relationships and do good work. They something that was always on the back of my mind was always getting out of debt. Still I was already on my debt free journey. I said to myself like, girl, when you do a bookstore, which you know you want to do, like make sure you do it when you finish this debt journey because all you’re gonna do is be thinking about like ooh, you know, I made $500. How much of that can I put towards the student loans? So and I didn’t want - I didn’t want to do that, so I’ve always wanted to start the bookstore. The subscription was first thing I also wanted to do was like …

ANNE: Oh.

ABBIGAIL: It’d be so cool to do a book subscription, yeah like I had that in mind, but again, I was so focused on getting out of debt. Even when I looked into getting a website done, the company I reached out to about designing the website then, I was like how much can I get with $500? They were like not much. [BOTH LAUGH] So I was like yeah, girl, just stick with your plan of getting out of debt first before you start any of like, any more business stuff.

ANNE: Well, and it sounds like because of that personal and practical goal, you had a lot of time to nurture and really refine your dream of opening this bookstore.

ABBIGAIL: Exactly. So when I got here to Charlotte, I got another HR job, you know, I got to do exactly what I wanted to do in terms of focusing in employee engagement and communication. I still would daydream about opening a bookstore and the subscrip — all these … I would daydream about it. I would be at the job and I would be working and I’d daydream. [SIGHS WISTFULLY] Once I get out of debt, like I should really like stick with this thing.

So in 2018 I decided to attend a free small business workshop hosted by Mecklenburg County here in North Carolina by owning a small business and doing business with the county. And it was a great session at the local community college here. I told myself that I was going to launch Shelves, I think it was in 2020 I think I said that. I was like I would be out of debt by then, and I’m gonna bank. I’m gonna state my money. I’m gonna be stacking my money and I’m gonna be able to get me a building and all this stuff.

So I kept the name Shelves close to my heart. I didn’t tell anybody. I wrote it down in my journal and a year later, I paid off my last debt and I start talking to one of my girlfriends here about like girl, I wanna open a bookstore. I wanna open a bookstore eventually and all this stuff. So she said to me, how come you can’t start that now? Like you could, why can’t you do like a pop-up somewhere? I was like, what? She said, yeah, like you talking about doing book fairs and you know all this, and she’s saying you don’t have to kinda wait. You can kinda like start messing around with this stuff now and I just ran with that. And I started looking for more small business workshops and I found this small business workshop at the local library. Shout out to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg library system, and I’m the only person that attend. So you have these two business owners in front of me. It was an all day session and I got undivided attention from two people.

[00:17:24]

ANNE: Wow.

ABBIGAIL: They brought in current business owners in Charlotte to sit down with me and to listen to my business idea and to give me advice on things to consider.

ANNE: Oh, that’s amazing.

ABBIGAIL: I know. So now I feel like okay, now I know where to buy books at. I have my LLC paperwork that came in by mid-May. All of these things I’m doing and I’m like oh my gosh, who’s gonna let me come into their place of business and sell books? Then I just start reaching out to random coffeeshops and I remember one of my former coworkers says, you know, there’s a coffee shop around the corner called Queen City Grounds. You should check out them and see if they would be willing to have you. Just check them out. They’re really nice around there. So I met with one of the owners and we set the date.

The first pop-up I had was on June 22nd, 2019 at Queen City Grounds in uptown Charlotte. When I went to set up, I had I think 60 books total. I was so nervous that my friend, the one who recommended me to do the pop-up, she came out and helped me set up and I said I need you to buy a book right now so I can make sure I even know how to check people out. [ANNE LAUGHS] That’s how we got started and it felt so natural.

When I was there, it felt natural to talk to people and let people choose their books because I’m that type of bookseller. I don’t hover. I tell you like hey, these are like the different things we have to offer. If I see that you are not readily picking up books off the shelves, that’s when I come back over and say like, just tell me what you like to read and I can put in the right direction. It was a journey and I can’t believe it, like June of this year will make it three years and we’ve since obviously now evolved into not just pop-ups but online and not just online still, but we have monthly book subscription, and not just monthly book subscription, but we carry our own line of merch and our merch is really good and it’s popular.

[00:19:13]

ANNE: [SIGHS] Your merch is so great.

ABBIGAIL: Yeah, I’m like ..

ANNE: It’s so great. I’m glad to hear readers are finding it. Readers, we’ll put links to all this in show notes. Abby, I would be so delighted to walk through the doors of a local coffee shop [ABBIGAIL LAUGHS] and discover there’s a pop-up bookstore. Oh, that would make me so happy. But now how can Charlotte-area readers and visiting readers, how can they know where to find you? Cause bookish surprise is a wonderful thing, but I know that we want to seek you out.

ABBIGAIL: First of all, we have an events page on our website and our events page always have our pop-ups listed and then we always include the information in our newsletter, which goes out once a week. We always post on social media that we’re having a pop-up and we tag the place we’re going to be at. Most of our pop-ups are at our partner site, Enderly Coffee Company in the west Charlotte area, and it’s been working. People, you know, come, they show up, they shop, they have a good time. It’s fun. We meet a lot of new customers. We also meet most of our online supporters, so …

ANNE: Oh, that’s great.

ABBIGAIL: Yeah. That’s a great thing, too, with the pop-up. They’re like I’m such-and-such and I’m like, oh yeah, just shipped an order!

ANNE: [LAUGHS] Oh, that’s so fun. I’m going to be in the Carolinas this spring…

[00:20:19]

ABBIGAIL: Oh really?

ANNE: So I’m hoping I can come see you in person.

ABBIGAIL: Nice.

ANNE: That is wonderful that you don’t need to be local to Charlotte or the Carolinas to be a part of Shelves Bookstore because you do have this large online presence.

ABBIGAIL: Yes. Yes. The subscription is also proof of that because we have subscription members as far west as California, as far south as Florida and as far north as New Jersey.

ANNE: I feel like that’s a challenge, listeners. [BOTH LAUGH]

Abby, you went from a kid waiting to get her book subscription in the mail to an adult who sends out book subscriptions to readers all over the U.S., and I know you put a ton of effort into choosing great books for your subscribers. Can you give us a taste of what kind of books you really love? Maybe ones you’ve really enjoyed recently? And if they really landed with you reading is a lifestyle subscribers as well, well, that would be fun to hear.

ABBIGAIL: One of the books that I remember really unanimously love is Kai Harris’s debut novel What The Fireflies Knew. We had the pleasure of having Kai Harris come and speak to our members about her book and we were having an entire little joke about like do we call them firebugs or fireflies or do you call them lightning bugs ‘cause I grew up calling them lightning bugs [ANNE LAUGHS] and she said for the sake of the title of the book, they called it fireflies, but the book really was written from the perspective of a young girl. She was 11 – 10 or 11 in the book. The author managed to really write from the mindset of a child. Folks said it put them back in the mindset of what it was as a child and the way you think as a child. So yeah, What The Fireflies Knew by Kai Harris.

ANNE: Okay, Abby, you made that sound fantastic. Give us another one, please.

ABBIGAIL: Another really good book [LAUGHS] and as I remember I’m cracking up because everybody was just describing it in the same ways. It’s called The Fortune Men. So that’s historical fiction based on a racial incident, I think it’s in Wales where this Somalian man who happens to be Black was accused of attacking a Jewish woman. Again, he’s an immigrant in the country he’s in. It really shines light on some racial disparities that are happening – that happens in other countries ‘cause we always hear America, America, but again America isn’t the only place that, you know, there’s discrimination happening against marginalized groups.

And this book was one of the finalists for The Booker list and we selected this as our historical fiction pick for January and those who got it, oh my gosh, this was the consensus from those who read it. It’s based on a true story, so you already know what’s going to happen. They just still weren’t able to cope with what was going to happen, and they said it’s because the author wrote the book in a way he just thought that no matter what, he was going to be absolved and proven innocent, and he was not. But you know that’s going to happen at the end. You know that but again, what pulled them in is because she wrote his character in a way where he just was so convinced that like oh, they’re going to do me right by.

[00:23:30]

ANNE: And that just makes your heart clench.

ABBIGAIL: So yeah. The Fortune Men.

ANNE: I’m laughing ‘cause as a reader that is what I want to know, like what do other readers think? What is their reading experience like?

ABBIGAIL: Yes. We send out a lot of debut novelist stuff, which is really cool, on top of that, but the goal is to expose our readers to books that they probably would’ve otherwise not come across on their own or picked up on their own. There are politics in publishing.

ANNE: Oh yeah.

ABBIGAIL: Not every book gets the same marketing dollars, so you know, there are tons of books that come out each week, but you would never know if you don’t follow that author or if you’re not following the latest book recommendation list, which again, typically will be comprised of books that have marketing dollars behind it because not every book is an Indie Next nomination.

ANNE: Yeah.

ABBIGAIL: I’m working on behalf of the reader and because I want to always pick great books for our members I’m deep diving for these books. I’m looking to see like ooh, is this a debut? Ooh, what would that … And I smile when I’m selecting books for like my members, I’m like oh yeah, I think she’ll really like this.

[00:24:35]

ANNE: [LAUGHS] Oh, I love that. And can I just add that in my own experience as an author it was fascinating to see like how that side of publishing works, but it was also really disillusioning to discover like all those most anticipate, best upcoming soon, can not wait are just publicists emailing each other and marketing dollars pay for publicists and it takes more than that for books to find their way to the right readers. I mean, it takes the work you’re doing, and I just – I love the sound of that. Okay, can I coerce one more crowd-pleasing book recommendation from you?

ABBIGAIL: [LAUGHS] Oh, gosh, yes! And another one I want to share with you is called A Play For the End of the World. So that fit two genres for us. Love and relationships and historical.

ANNE: [GASPS] Ooh, I love that that’s a genre for you, love and relationships.

ABBIGAIL: So it’s about the relationship between these two men who are Holocaust survivors. They get to New York City, but again they have this trauma that they’re both carrying around. One is older than the other. They made a way for themselves in New York, etc. etc. There is a gentleman from – who lives in India, who is doing a play based on the time period of when these two men were coming up in the – during the Holocaust. So one older man wants to be a part of helping the play come to life in their present day. So he travels to India to be with the professor there who is putting this on.

The younger guy, Jaryk, he meets a woman in New York. She’s from the south. She’s living there. So he’s in this relationship, yet he’s also trying to pick up the pieces of what happens to him, and when I tell you [ANNE LAUGHS] When I found it, I said oh my gosh, like I really hope people, they love this because I love it just by reading the synopsis of it. And when I tell you they loved it, it was such a treat to have the author on the call because they had all the questions for him. And he really took his time with this book. A Play For the End of the World I would recommend that like for those who love the romance too, it will pull at your heartstrings with that, but again you also have the historical context. Definitely check it out.

ANNE: Abby, in a real sense, reading is your job.

ABBIGAIL: Yeah.

ANNE: What are you reading this summer? [ABBIGAIL LAUGHS] What are some titles that you know are on your list?

[00:27:05]

ABBIGAIL: I want to finish The Witcher series. Started watching The Witcher in December and after that I said I need to read the book and I finished book one and I need to start book two. I have book two with me and I need to start that. So that’s my goal is to finish The Witcher series this summer. I would like to read Will by Will Smith ‘cause I have heard nothing but good things about it. I’m a fan of, you know, Will Smith’s work. I’m a fan of Jada Pinkett and Will Smith separately as actors and actresses. I’ve always enjoyed the films and stuff that they’re in and you know, I’m really proud of Will Smith …

ANNE: Yeah.

ABBIGAIL: Especially coming out of West Philly and me growing up in southwest Philly. I’m really proud of what he’s accomplished, and I want to read Viola Davis’s new memoir, too. I really love reading people stories about their lives, and not business ‘cause I had somebody ask me that the other day like oh, you know, would you have business books to recommend? I really believe that the best stories come out of people who just try and figure stuff out and they were using their gifts, their god giving gifts, and they just kept doing what came naturally to them, like that led them to where they ended up.

When grit meets the gift, that can do more for you than you spending time trying to figure out like how to go about it the cookie cutter way, the way that was already set by somebody years ago ‘cause there … You realize that there are multiple ways to get to where you need to get to, not to where they got to, but where you need to get to. And because I believe everybody’s journey is their own, if you are reading business books because you are trying to rush to get to the end goal, I feel like that you might end up getting to … You might end up getting to your peak, but you’ll get to it in the wrong season and then you fall off of the hill sooner than you were supposed to.

ANNE: I love the way you describe that.

ABBIGAIL: You know, people have to appreciate the slowness in your journey, too. Appreciate the steadiness, but the slowness of it, like I truly believe that slow and steady wins the race. So I’m taking my time, you know, bringing back to when I launched Shelves. When I envisioned Shelves, I envisioned it as a physical bookstore. That was how I envisioned it for … It was my friend who told me girl, you should do a pop-up. I could have turned my nose at that idea because, again, I had only envisioned it as a physical bookstore, but instead I said, you know what, that’s a good idea, let me try it. And then I kept doing it and doing it, even though I really didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing most of the time, but I kept doing it because I was already sold out to the serving people through a bookstore, even if it had to be as a pop-up.

Fast forward to the pandemic starting, all the physical businesses have to close their doors. I remember in that moment like God, I don’t know how I’m going to make money. ‘Cause I didn’t have online at the time, so I said I don’t know how I’m going to make money, but man, you know, I’m also glad that, you know, I’m not over here having to figure out how I’m going to pay my overhead for a commercial space. Well that June, things took off for us, which also happened to be our anniversary month for us. So our one year anniversary month, we had an influx in orders because of the unrest concerning the murder of George Floyd and I said I need to now invest in doing an online. I got online set up and that came with its own trials and tribulations. Then here it is online now open a new door.

If I would have turned my nose to the pop-up, pivoting has been my saving grace and because of that my decision to remain open. I literally am living in a prayer, I feel like. Some of the stuff we’ve been able to accomplish. I’ve been sitting over here like wow, and we’re still technically only a pop-up and an online bookstore.

ANNE: Well, Abby, thank you so much for inviting us to join you on your journey vicariously today and I know that you’re not more of a podcast person by your own description, so thank you for pivoting over to What Should I Read Next. It was a joy to hear about your business and the journey you’ve been on and where you are now and also thank you for those enticing book recommendations. I know they’re going to end up on a lot of reader TBR lists this summer.

ABBIGAIL: [LAUGHS] Thank you.

[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]

ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Abby today, and I’d love to hear what YOU think she should read next. Visit Abbigail’s online bookstore at shelvesbookstore.com and follow along for news from Shelves and info on those pop-up shops on instagram. She is @shelvesbookstore. Check out the full list of the titles we discussed today at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/328.

As podcasters, five-star reviews are our love language! When you take a quick minute to give us a five-star review in Apple Podcasts you fill our bookish hearts with joy, plus spread the book love by helping other readers find the show. Thanks in advance for taking the time. It really does make a difference.

Connect with us and our Instagram community of readers at whatshouldireadnext, and follow me at annebogel. That’s Anne with an E, B as in books, O-G-E-L.

Make sure you’re getting our weekly newsletter in your inbox, including our must-have, upcoming Summer Reading Guide! Sign up at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/newsletter.

Follow us in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, and more. Tune in next week, when I’ll be talking with a reader from Norway who’s looking for books in one of MY favorite genres, and I can’t wait to give her some ideas.

Thanks to the people who make this show happen! What Should I Read Next is produced by Brenna Frederick, with sound design by Kellen Pechacek.

Readers, that’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening.

And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, “ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” Happy reading, everyone.

Books mentioned:

• Matilda by Roald Dahl
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
• Berenstain Bears chapter books (try The Berenstain Bears’ Nature Rescue: An Early Reader Chapter Book)
• Fly Girl by Omar Tyree
• Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine (try Night of the Living Dummy (Classic Goosebumps #1))
• What the Fireflies Knew by Kai Harris
• The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed
• A Play for the End of the World by Jai Chakrabarti
• The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski (#1 The Last Wish)
• Will by Will Smith
• Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis 

Also Mentioned:

• Black Expressions Subscription
• Jet magazine
• Shelves Bookstore
• Queen City Grounds
• Shelves Book Subscription
• Shelves Events

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19 comments

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  1. Tom says:

    I am so excited that you had Abby on this morning!! She is such a joy to know here in Charlotte. And a great part of the bookseller community here. (Check out the Greater Charlotte Area Book Crawl kicked off this year in April to align with Indie Bookstore Day.) And her merch is amaaaaaaazing!! I couldn’t love Abby any more.

  2. Sarah Williams says:

    I am excited to listen to this episode. However, I would be even more excited to own the hoodie Abby is wearing!! Hoodie goals.

  3. Patti Toohey says:

    Seriously, this has been my favorite episode. I laughed, clapped and smiled the whole way through the podcast. I loved her energy, ambition and positivity. She is just a super star!

  4. Diane Rineer says:

    I love the enthusiasm of Abby but Anne why didn’t you recommend three books? Just wondered because I enjoy getting all the book ideas I can! I got right on and ordered the book Chakrabarti wrote from my local independent book store. Thanks for a great podcast.

  5. Sue Duronio says:

    Loved this episode! I SO want to visit Shelves. Charlotte is about 2 hours from where I live. Whenever I have to be remotely out that way I am going to seek her out. I think I’m going to place an order soon to support her. This episode was a delight, thank you both!

  6. This is a fantastic episode. I loved what you said Abby, about letting your business grow slowly and finding your own way. That’s me. I’m going to go to your website and suggest some books written by my Story-Power podcast guests that I think are fantastic and hope you will promote at Shelves. That’s one of the joys of having a podcast. I get to meet so many great artists, musicians, authors, and more. Also, I’m glad you said that you’re reading The Witcher series. I love the TV show and have wanted to read the books as well. You gave me that little push to do so. Thanks for a great episode.

  7. Texas says:

    I was so disappointed in this episode. I couldn’t get past the beginning when you let Abby just rant. I wanted the interview questions we are accustomed to. I gave up before you got to the part about her bookstore. I really wanted to hear that because that’s what the intro promised. And then I read you didn’t suggest books. Again, that’s what I listen for. I wish you had given Abby the opportunity to be a traditional contributor to your podcast.

  8. Heather says:

    Love the podcast but this episode felt like a commercial for Abby’s business. I hope the next episode is in the usual format.

  9. Lanne says:

    I enjoyed this episode. I may never visit Shelves as it is approximately 815 miles from my town; but I can dream. (Yes, I had google tell me!). I have hit a major reading slump this year. I’m on target to read a half to a third of the books I read last year. But I think Abby helped. A majority of the books I’ve read the last 2-3 years have been to expose me to other cultures, races, nationalities, and lifestyles. I have read many excellent books. But Abby gave me permission to read to “see myself on the pages” and something that “speaks to my experiences.” And for me that is an older, white, rural American woman. Thanks, Abby and Anne.

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