• 50 Fictional Booksellers, Ranked

    Pamela Anderson is the Jeff Bezos of This List.

    10. Apollo Kagawa, The Changeling

    Home bookstore: Improbabilia, New York City (though not exactly a “store”)

    Notable characteristics: Self-starter, devoted father, endlessly curious, massive nerd, big dreamer

    Bookselling philosophy: As a rare book dealer, he lives for the surprise and suspense of the hunt—which sometimes ends up netting him a “horny postcard from Aleister Crowley.” May or may not scream over a first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird.

    Words to live by: “A good book man never turns down the chance at some rare find.”

    9. Uncle Kouzuki, The Handmaiden

    Home bookstore: His own luxurious estate.

    Notable characteristics: Tyrannical, sadistic, has a tongue permanently stained black from licking the tip of his ink pen. Perhaps the most terrifying bookseller on this list.

    Bookselling philosophy: Collects rare erotic texts, and forces his beautiful niece to read them aloud for potential buyers—but is loathe to actually sell them, and so instead makes and sells forgeries to his panting clients.

    That octopus in the torture chamber: I actually shudder to think.

    8. Aziraphale, Good Omens

    Home bookstore: A. Z. Fell and Co. in Soho, London

    Notable characteristics: Obsessive book collector, human-lover, worrier. Brilliant, fussy, definitely wearing white right now. And, of course, an angel.

    Bookselling philosophy: The bookstore is really just a place to keep his collection. In fact, he will use “every means short of physical violence to prevent customers from making a purchase. Unpleasant damp smells, glowering looks, erratic opening hours—he [is] incredibly good at it.”

    Sign on the door: Bookshop Opening Hours: I open the show on most weekdays about 9:30 or perhaps 10am. While occasionally I open the shop as early as 8, I have been known not to open until 1, except on Tuesday. I tend to close about 3:30pm, or earlier if something needs tending to. However, I might occasionally keep the shop open until 8 or 9 at night, you never know when you might need some light reading. On days that I am not in, the shop will remain closed. On weekends, I will open the shop during normal hours unless I am elsewhere. Bank holidays will be treated in the usual fashion, with early closing on Wednesdays, or sometimes Fridays. (For Sundays see Tuesdays.) A. Z. Fell, Bookseller

    Easter egg: Michael Ralph, the production designer for the adaptation of Good Omens, spent a lot of time thinking about this bookstore. “I put Aziraphale’s bookshop on a crossroads of a four-road intersection because of the four horseman of the apocalypse and the four corners of the earth,” he told Architectural Digest. “Then I based his bookshop entirely on the design of a compass. And therefore if you look up at the oculus or the skylight on the roof of Aziraphale’s bookshop, it actually is the face of a compass. On the mezzanine level are big brass letters that say ‘north,’ ‘south,’ ‘east,’ and ‘west.’ His office is sitting under the east side, and he was the guard at the eastern gate in Eden.”

    Can you visit? Like human existence, it was there for a moment, and then it was gone.

    7. Toni and Candace, Portlandia

    Home bookstore: Women & Women First, Portland

    Notable characteristics: Second-wave Feminists who are very triggered by pointing (“Every time you point I see a penis!!”), also shorts, use of words like “equipment,” alphabetizing, etc. Once high-powered publishing executives (??) who hated each other.

    Bookselling philosophy: Enjoy doing lots of impressions, and also being profoundly unhelpful.

    Interesting theory:

    6. Dean Corso, The Ninth Gate

    Home bookstore: A freelance book dealer—though he has a special relationship with Bernie’s Rare Books.

    Notable characteristics: A sly, sexy, “double-dealing, money grubbing bastard”. . . deliciously unscrupulous and also the best in the business.

    Bookselling philosophy: For a Quixote by Ybarra, he’d stoop to anything.

    Uh oh: “The Devil, Mrs. Telfer. This book is designed to raise the Devil.”

    5. Joe Goldberg, You

    Home bookstore: Mooney’s in New York City; Aravin in Los Angeles

    Notable characteristics: Really, really cares. He’s doing this for you. Read: obsessive, controlling, troubled, and, you know, a serial killer. On the other hand, he has generally excellent taste in books. I mean, he won this cold heart right away by recommending Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters right off the bat. If he were real, I’d be dead now.

    Bookselling philosophy: You can make people better if you only hand them the right books. And manipulate them.

    What a snob: “A book is far greater than most hands it passes through. Some simply aren’t worthy.”

    4. Carolina, Desperado

    Home bookstore: Carolina’s Cafe con Libros

    Notable characteristics: Ride-or-die amateur surgeon, sharp-shooter and bookstore owner in a town where no one reads. Cooler than everyone else on this list.

    Bookselling philosophy: The bookstore may be funded by/a front for Bucho’s drug dealing, but at least it’s hers. Mostly. Basically. And if not, she’s got money hidden in the books.

    In the end: “I always said it would go up in smoke.”

    3. Will Thacker, Notting Hill

    Home bookstore: The Travel Book Company in Notting Hill, London

    Notable characteristics: Floppy hair, broken heart, gloriously bad roommate.

    Bookselling philosophy: Lots of mumbling involved. Attempts to steer customers towards books with amusing kebab incidents, is usually not successful. Attempts to keep customers from putting books down their trousers are marginally more successful. How’s it working for him? “Classic. Absolutely classic. Profit from major sales push . . . minus 347 pounds.”

    Books are magic: “Very useful for fighting fires, wrapping fish, that sort of thing.”

    Introductory voice over: “And so it was just another hopeless Wednesday, as I set off through the market to work, little suspecting that this was the day which would change my life forever. This is work, by the way, my little travel book shop, which, well, sells travel books—and, to be frank with you, doesn’t always sell many of those.”

    Can you visit? The store in the film was inspired by The Travel Bookshop, which is now defunct. But in its place you will find The Notting Hill Bookshop. As far as I know, Hugh Grant does not work there (yet).

    2. Bernard Black, Black Books

    Home bookstore: the eponymous Black Books (“I was gonna call it World Of Tights, but you know how stupid people are; you have to spell everything out!”)

    Notable characteristics: Literally all the bad ones, but in the best of ways.

    Bookselling philosophy: “What do they want from me? Why can’t they leave me alone? I mean, what do they want from me?”

    But really because: Bernard Black is all of us on our worst days.

    Fun fact: Dylan Moran, who plays Bernard, is also Rufus the Thief in Notting Hill. Man just loves books, you know?

    1. Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail

    Home bookstore: The Shop Around the Corner in New York City

    Notable characteristics: Bad taste in boyfriends, nostalgic, hopeless romantic, does not eat the garnish.

    Bookselling philosophy: Professional, personal, dedicated, nice to children—the kind of philosophy you only find at a small local bookstore!

    Sometimes: “Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life—well, valuable, but small—and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it or because I haven’t been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around? I don’t really want an answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So good night, dear void.”

    Emily Temple
    Emily Temple
    Emily Temple is the managing editor at Lit Hub. Her first novel, The Lightness, was published by William Morrow/HarperCollins in June 2020. You can buy it here.

    More Story
    When Did Self-Help Books Become Literary? Walk into a contemporary bookstore and self-help manuals are likely to be among the first books you’ll see. In my local...