Her passion is turning people on to good reads



Shirley Sussman

Sales associate / special orders / buyer

The Ivy Bookshop, Baltimore

Salary --$10 an hour

Age --56

Years on the job --four

Life before books --As a stay-at-home mother, she raised four children, now ages 19 to 31. "I was a Girl Scout leader and all of that." She went back to school after she took this job, earning a master's in writing from the Johns Hopkins University.

On taking the job --Her love of books was the inspiration. "Writing is so solitary and I get as much pleasure from giving as getting. This is like a corner store, it's where people come together. The counter is like a bar and I sometimes feel like a bartender. Part of the job is listening."

Getting time to read and write --She reads constantly for work, perusing new books, finding new authors. "I don't like time restrictions when I write so I do it Friday, Saturday and Sunday, when I'm not in the shop."

Typical day --When she opens the store, she arrives at 9:30. "I look to see what's on special order ... then I see what needs to be shelved and make myself available to customers." Books are pulled to make room for new books. "It's like fresh milk."

The good --Recommending books is one of her greatest pleasures. Her free time is typically spent reading and writing - she reads about four books a month. "I find a way to give a gift to someone every day. When I find a book I love and I tell someone about it, it's like giving a gift. The money I get doesn't begin to describe how valuable this opportunity is, how I feel about what I do."

The bad --"It's hard to think of something bad - I even enjoy the Christmas stress. I suppose it's frustrating when a beloved book is out of print or I can't find a special order book."

Kid recommendations --"Owen & Mzee is a great book about a tortoise and a hippo." The book is by Craig Hatkoff, his 7-year-old daughter Isabella, and Paula Kahumbu of Lafarge Eco Systems.

Adult recommendations --"Suite Francaise by IrM-hne NM-imirovsky is a book about a woman killed at Auschwitz."

Favorite book --"TheTender Bar by J.R. Moehringer is so beautifully written. I think I am single-handedly responsible for putting it on the best-seller list."

Philosophy --Listen to what people need and share what is most precious. Her parents were Holocaust survivors from Poland and Czechoslovakia and spoke Yiddish at home. "Because my parents didn't speak English, books helped me learn how to be in America. They were my siblings, my mentors, my friends. For me, to be able to pass along books to people is like giving important pieces of myself."

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