Face Out: ABA Board Member Tegan Tigani on Her Life Among Books

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In the latest installment of our series profiling American Booksellers Association Board membersBookselling This Week talks to Tegan Tigani, children’s book buyer at Queen Anne Book Company in Seattle, Washington. In May, Tigani was appointed to the ABA Board to fill a vacancy resulting from the election of Jamie Fiocco of Flyleaf Books as ABA President.

Bookselling This Week: Please talk about your early experiences with reading and books.

Tegan Tigani

Tegan Tigani: As I child, I often read books beyond my reading level or otherwise “inappropriate” for me. I remember choosing a copy of Black Beauty as a souvenir on a family road trip when I was in kindergarten. I probably spent the whole ride back leaning over to ask my sister, “What’s this word?” I read Clan of the Cave Bear before I was in middle school, too, and went right on to the sequels from my mom’s shelves. I sometimes bring those stories up in conversation with parents who are worried about finding a just-right book for their children because I don’t want reading to be stressful for parents or kids. I believe that if a reader is interested enough in a book, they won’t be discouraged by a too-high reading level. I believe that if young readers choose books with inappropriate adult content, some of it will go over their heads but what they do get won’t corrupt them. I like to say, “I read a lot of racy books when I was very young, so I didn’t have to experiment in real life.” Enjoying reading is a key to lifelong learning. Treat yourself, push yourself, let yourself be curious, no matter what age.

BTW: Did you hold other positions in the book industry before becoming a bookseller?

TT: A part-time job at Queen Anne Avenue Books was my first job out of college. In high school, I worked in the school library, was president of the Library Club, and had the librarian as my advisor, so I had been on a bookish path for a while. Since becoming a bookseller, I have added to my book industry resume, though: I also work as a developmental editor for Girl Friday Productions and as a children’s picture book acquisitions editor-at-large for Sasquatch Books.

BTW: How did you begin as a bookseller, and how long after starting in bookselling did you begin to feel that you had found a special vocation?

TT: For two years after I moved to Seattle, I worked five days a week as the operations manager at The Children’s Museum and one day a week at the bookstore. I’ll never forget when a little girl came into the museum art activity I was leading and whispered loudly to her mom, “It’s THE BOOKSTORE LADY!” That was the first time I really identified as a bookseller. Katie is still a customer, even after going off to college, and she still makes me proud to be a bookseller.

BTW: What do you think was the most important factor that led to your establishing/buying your store?

TT: I’m rather unusual among ABA board members because I am not a store owner or even a store manager. I’d been working at Queen Anne Avenue Books for about 10 years when it closed suddenly in 2012 after ownership changes. I wasn’t in a place in my life where I could commit to owning a business, but people knew how much I’d loved the store. Within a few months of the store closing, I was contacted by a couple of customers who had been big readers and supporters; they knew their neighborhood needed a bookstore. That same day, I heard from a bookseller friend who had always wanted to own a bookstore and thought maybe Queen Anne was the right opportunity. I couldn’t believe the serendipity! I introduced Judy and Krijn de Jonge to Janis Segress, and they formed a partnership to open a brand-new store, Queen Anne Book Company, in the old Queen Anne Books location, hiring several of the former store’s staff. Even though I’m not the store’s owner, I think I can say that the community was the most important factor; we all knew that the neighborhood wanted to support an independent bookstore, and that Queen Anne is a community where customers and business owners alike put their money where their hearts are.

BTW: When did you first become a member of ABA? What motivated you to join?

TT: The stores where I’ve worked have always been ABA members. I met ABA staff at our regional trade shows, and I won a scholarship to Winter Institute 6 in Washington, D.C. I was inspired by the way the organization advocated for everything from tax fairness to free speech, and I loved the education that brought together creative, engaged booksellers from around the country and professionals from other industries who had relevant ideas and experiences.

BTW: What do you think are some of the most important changes in bookselling since you joined your store?

TT: As a children’s book buyer, I am extremely excited about the call for increased diversity in publishing. The We Need Diverse Books movement continues to be such an inspiration and a change for good. It’s a place where the children’s book side of the industry is really leading the way. When more diverse characters are on the shelves of bookstores, more readers feel truly at home. Our stores can open up new worlds for readers, and more diverse books are an important part of that.

BTW: What are your key goals as an ABA Board member for fostering the book industry, and bookselling in particular?

TT: I want to help communities around the country appreciate their independent bookstores. Goodwill makes us love what we do, but it doesn’t pay the rent or invoices. I’d like to find ways to develop the good feelings around bookstores into concrete support. What can communities do to prevent landlords from raising rents that price out small businesses? What can local, state, and federal governments do to recognize and support bookstores as vital cultural contributors? What can citizens do to help influence bookstore- and small-business-friendly policy? How can bookstores invest in their staff to ensure they attract and retain talented, dedicated booksellers who make every shopping trip a valuable experience? ABA’s advocacy and education have already proven important and effective, but I think we can do even more.

BTW: What are you reading now?

TT: I am chairing the Kids’ Indies Introduce panel, so I am reading a lot of early copies of middle grade and YA books that I’m excited about but not supposed to talk about yet. I am also treating myself to The Flight Girls by Noelle Salazar. It’s historical fiction about WWII WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) — gripping and inspiring.

BTW: You get a day to walk through any city, town, or landscape with any one writer. What writer and what place?

TT: Part of me wants to pick Ross King for a tour of Florence, but I think that by rereading Brunelleschi’s Dome, I can get a close approximation. Another part of me wants to romp through the Lake District with Beatrix Potter, because how fun would it be to go hedgehog-spotting and bring sketch books together? But I think I’d have to choose Barcelona with Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I got to meet him at a dinner in Seattle before The Shadow of the Wind was published in the U.S., and I’m a huge fan. He is such a vivid storyteller on page and in person, and I know he would share the city’s history, lore, and best places to eat!