Lutyens & Rubinstein is a beautiful shop in Notting Hill, London, small, but filled with light because of the large front windows and high ceilings. I was lucky enough to be invited along to their book club after the members choose to read Our Endless Numbered Days. I have to declare an interest though before I get started with the interview. As well as owning the bookshop, the owners run a literary agency from the basement. (You’d never guess that half a dozen people are hidden behind some bookshelves down there – see if you can spot them.) And Lutyens & Rubinstein Literary Agency represents me.
I asked Claire Harris, Bookshop Manager my questions:
Can you tell me something about the history of Lutyens and Rubinstein?
Lutyens and Rubinstein Bookshop was set up nearly seven years ago by Sarah Lutyens and Felicity Rubinstein who had been running a successful agency for over 20 years and felt the time was perfect for a project very close to their hearts – opening a bookshop. Both of them have lived and worked in Notting Hill for years and asked all their friends, contacts etc to suggest the books they would like to find in a local bookshop and we used these suggestions for the backbone of our backlist.
What’s your favourite section?
I suppose it would be the backlist titles, particularly the fiction as I have always had a passion for 19th and 20th classics and also the wonderful female writers published by Virago and lately, Persephone
If you had infinite space what would you add?
I don’t think I would want any more space. Being quite a small shop means that we choose our stock carefully and we are able to keep an eye on what is coming in and balance it with returns. It also means that we often change displays to keep things for becoming boring for our regular customers.
What’s the hardest thing about managing an independent bookshop?
I suppose the hardest thing is trying to make a profit as margins are small and we are obviously constantly being undercut by Amazon and supermarkets etc. But the benefits of managing an independent bookshop more than make up for that!
Who is your favourite customer?
Probably the ones with whom I can have plentiful, amusing and intelligent conversations about books and we are lucky that we have several of these.
What’s your best/first memory of visiting a bookshop?
I didn’t really visit bookshops as a child but I do remember constantly visiting our local library which was very small but had an amazing children’s section. The only bookshop I really remember visiting was a secondhand/antique bookshop in Cheltenham which filled the basement of one of the Georgian houses and which seemed to extend back for miles and at the back was the counter which was also used as a bar at which the regular customers would sit and chat and have a drink. I used to think this was the perfect job!
What would you like authors or publishers to do differently?
We are very happy with our relationship with our publishers and especially their reps who are extremely helpful and provide us with proofs, events etc
What fairly unknown book do you think more people should know about?
We use our displays, tables, windows, Year in Books subscription to bring a lot of unknown books to the attention of our customers: I recently read a New York Review copy of Belchamber by Howard Sturgis which I really enjoyed; also The House of Ulloa, a Spanish classic by Bazan.
What book are you currently recommending / hand-selling?
I was recently introduced to Oliver Harris who writes crime novels set in Hampstead. I am not usually a great fan of crime but these really appeal mainly due to the charismatic detective who breaks all the rules. His first novel is The Hollow Man and his third novel is due out shortly. I have also really loved the two novels by a young south Korean novel, Han Kang and have been recommending both of her books, The Vegetarian and Human Acts.