In conversation with Holly Ainley
Say hello to Holly Ainley our new book buyer who has a wealth of literary and publishing knowledge and a passion for all things books.
Welcome to the Jarrold book department, Holly. Could you please give us a brief overview of your career in books prior to joining Jarrold?
Thank you, it has been a pleasure getting to know my new colleagues over these past weeks and I’ve been delighted to meet just some of our customers already too; I look forward to seeing more of you over the coming months so please do come and say hello at any time.
Not only am I new to Jarrold but I’m new to Norwich, having moved here from Brighton. I started my career in bookselling for a wonderful independent bookshop on the coast, City Books, who, like Jarrold, have a lively literary events programme. I went on to work as a literary scout for various foreign publishers, then moved ‘behind the scenes’ into publishing, becoming an editor. I worked for both an independent publisher, Myriad Editions, and latterly for the Borough Press imprint at HarperCollins in London, commissioning, editing and publishing literary fiction. I return to bookselling now, refreshed and with an understanding of books and publishing from a variety of perspectives. It’s really exciting to have come full circle, returning to a position where I can meet readers, talk about books face-to-face and be part of that magical experience of helping find your perfect next read.
As you take the reins here what excites you most about the prospect?
It certainly feels like a big responsibility taking over from Chris Rushby! I’m keenly aware of the respect and high regard in which our customers hold the Jarrold book department and of the sterling reputation it has beyond the city too, evident in the way it attracts such fabulous guest authors and speakers. I’m excited about working with our experienced and frankly brilliant team of booksellers to build on this reputation, through the books we champion and the breadth of the events programme we offer. I want there to be something for everyone, both on the shelves and in the book events and signings we do.
Although that’s quite enough to be going on with, I was drawn to Norwich for its rich literary heritage and thriving literary community, so I’m eager to develop the collaborations the book department already has and to explore new opportunities to work with individuals and organisations across the city.
Finally, would you like to recommend three book titles you think best sum up you, your reading tastes and the kind of thing you’d like to share with Jarrold customers?
It’s so hard to choose and I’m glad that I’ll have the chance to share lots more recommendations and favourites with our customers over the coming months! For now, here are three books that I have loved and pressed into the hand of many friends, family and colleagues over the years:
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Celebrating its 21st birthday this year (and re-issued in 2017 with a stunning new cover), The Poisonwood Bible is an unforgettable novel for me. A heady combination of beautiful and brutal, it is all at once a family saga, a journey into the dark complexities of religion and an exploration of postcolonial Africa. I was enthralled by the five powerful female voices telling the story: the wife and four daughters of evangelical preacher, Nathan Price, who relocates his mission and his family from the U.S. to the Belgian Congo in the late 1950s. The tragic undoing and the long, brave, sometimes harrowing redemption for these women, miles from home, will stay with me, as will the gorgeous writing. It made me a staunch fan of Kingsolver and I remain loyal, having recently loved her latest, Unsheltered.
Available in the book department, lower ground
The Snow Geese by William Fiennes
Following a serious illness in his early 20s, Fiennes found solace and inspiration reading about the migration of snow geese from the Gulf of Mexico and California to the Canadian Artic, on the tundra. Once strong enough, he decided to follow these majestic birds across the seasons and a continent, tracing their journey to the frozen North. The Snow Geese is the result: part travelogue, part finely-observed nature writing and partly a quiet, solitary journey back to health and belonging for Fiennes. Every day brings something new for him on the road: a host of charming characters along the way, moments of unadulterated natural beauty and a deepening understanding of the behaviour of the snow geese.
This book won many prizes and was life-changing for me, which I don’t say lightly! I read it in my early 20s, a strange period of uncertainty for many of us, and found it a great comfort; Fiennes’ gentle, closely observed exploration of these birds returning home, was and remains a much-needed anchor.
Available from the book department, lower ground
The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
Olivia Laing consistently writes with freshness, energy and intelligence on whatever subject she turns her hand to. 2018 saw the publication of her debut novel, Crudo, but she is more widely known for her vivid non-fiction, my favourite of which is The Lonely City. After buying this book on impulse I became totally hooked on Laing’s dynamic study of loneliness and the modern city, namely New York, and the inspired lens through which she examines her subject: the work of five diverse and brilliant artists ranging from Andy Warhol, to Edward Hopper, to Henry Darger. Delving into their lives, Laing manages to subvert our typically negative, shameful perception of loneliness and show instead the opportunity and creativity that can be borne of it, for these artists and for all of us. I really didn’t know what to expect when I set out reading, but fell in love with this book for its humanity, accessibility and refreshing perspective.
Available from the book department, lower ground