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12 noviembre 2022

Laura Riñón: “The great enemy of books is not Amazon, it’s the screens”

Laura Riñón (1975) was born in Zaragoza but at a very young age she left the Aragonese capital for Madrid. There, she runs the fashionable bookstore, a "house of books" where people of culture, new writers and books meet: Amapolas en octubre. The bookstore is named after one of her novels, whose illustrated edition she presents in Zaragoza (Ámbito Cultural) on March 14.

When did your passion for reading begin?

I guess since I was very young. The first books I remember were Steamboat, Enid Blyton… and the book that was the turning point was Little Women. Since then, for my Christmas and birthday presents I always asked for books. Besides, in my house there has always been a lot of reading and I think that is contagious.

When did you start writing and why?

I always wrote, not with literary ambition, but I wrote notebooks and stories. Writing was something I did almost in secret and I remember that in the second year of BUP I let a literature teacher read a story with all my illusion, with such bad luck that she told me to forget about writing and dedicate myself to study, which was what I had to do at that time. I understood that what I had to do was to continue writing for myself. Life went by and suddenly I was sharing some writings, it seemed that people started to like them, and one day I started to write a book of short stories. From the moment I made it public, somehow my adventure as a writer began.

But your life has not always followed the path of literature. Did you work as a stewardess and write as a hobby?

It wasn’t a hobby, nor did I do it in my free time, it was a necessity. Writing is something I have always done, but sharing it is something else. Suddenly you discover that the stories you write are not for you, they are for others who start reading you and make those stories their own. I’m still doing the same as before with the only difference that now what I write is published.

When did you decide to quit your job to open the bookstore?

Amapolas en octubre, the bookstore, was an illusion I had had for a long time, something I shared with a small group of friends. Years went by, I kept flying, discovering places and bookstores… but things happen when they are ready to happen. I wanted a place like Amapolas en octubre, which is not an ordinary bookstore, it is more of a meeting place. There is buying and selling books, but it’s where readers find a home, which is what I like. We do many things besides selling books. Since I didn’t know where or when to do it, I first turned it into a novel. Poppies in October is a novel I published in 2016 and two years later I decided it was time to take it off the pages and make it a reality. I said goodbye to my work because it was written, never better said.

When do you have that click or who drives you?

A store I was in love with became vacant. It belonged to a friend of mine who owned a clothing store, she knew I loved it, and when she decided to leave the store she called me to tell me. Three days later I said goodbye. For some reason I saw something in that place that was throbbing in my heart. I am a great believer in magic and destinies. When I have a feeling, I let myself be carried away by it.

Why Poppies in October?

The bookstore is named after the book. First it was the dream and when the dream came true, I didn’t even think about it, I knew it was going to be Poppies in October. When I was changing the floor and doing the work on the shop, I buried a copy of the novel underneath, put a note, wrapped it up and put it inside. “On this book I will build my bookstore” (laughs).

As you have said on several occasions, your bookstore is not like the others, it is a house of books.

From the beginning I had it planned to be like that, even before coworking existed here in Spain. As I was traveling around the world as a stewardess and I saw people in bookstores and they were not like the ones we had here, crowded with books, there they could talk to the bookseller and have him as their bedside. I wanted something more, that it was another home. I was inspired by stories of other booksellers, like the bookseller Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare and Company, who marked an era in Paris in the 1920s or 1930s with her bookstore.

How important is the figure of the bookseller?

The bookseller is essential, as is a pharmacist or a trusted person in something you like… it is fundamental. A bookseller’s bookstore is a reflection of him or herself. Amapolas en octubre is a mirror of what I am and I would not be the person I am without a bookstore like this one. I think you have to be coherent with what you do, I like to get to know the readers, intuit or find out what they need to read… There are booksellers that we are for the pure readers, not for the people who want to read because they go for the book and find it. Readers drop into a place and ask you questions, they let themselves be recommended. It’s very nice because it builds mutual trust. If a reader I trust recommends a book to me, I ask to read it.

In Poppies in October you mention the phrase “books choose us”. How do you see which book fits each person at any given moment?

There are novels that we read when we are ready to read them, others that we don’t understand and then we do, or the other way around. The reader changes throughout his life and the book remains the same. In the end you know what to recommend because it’s something you can see what they need. When someone comes to you and says, “I want something happy,” you know they’re in a happy moment; or if they say, “I don’t want you to talk about loss,” you know they’ve had a recent loss. As you get to know the readers, if you ask them for three titles they like, you know what kind of literature they like best. It’s about knowing how to listen to the other person.

Is it hard to talk about books on social media? You do some very different reviews than other booksellers on Instagram.

Yes, it’s about being a little consistent once again with the bookstore that I own. If I were to post only photos of the bookstore, which is very pretty, the girl has turned out beautiful (laughs), it wouldn’t make much sense, you have to go beyond that. Social networks are an extension of your business and who you are. I believe that social networks allow you to bring the book closer to the reader, to awaken illusion, interest and curiosity. A phrase that has been said to me many times in recent years and that makes me feel satisfied enough to close the business and think that I have done well is: “thanks to you I have regained the habit of reading”. With that alone I am super satisfied. Social networks serve to offer the book or literature as something different. When we talk about meetings or gatherings, we usually have the image of people in sepia color, with a pipe and gentlemen with white beards talking about academic books that raise dust from the table. Literature must be offered as part of our life to those who are not linked to it, because books talk about us.

How many books do you read a week to do these reviews?

It depends on the week or if I’m writing, but about three or four a week, it depends.

What kind of books do you have at Amapolas in October?

When I opened the bookstore I did it only with the titles that I had in my bookstore at home, that I had read, I wasn’t going to sell things I didn’t know. From then on I would choose a little bit… At Amapolas we have 2% of the new titles that come out, I don’t have more because I’m not interested in having everything. I want to have the books that I think connect with my readers, it doesn’t mean that my criteria is the best, but they are books that I can defend, that shake you, that move you, that take you on a journey… I don’t have commercial books, they don’t need me. Otherwise, it seems to me that I am cheating and being unfaithful to my values.

What Aragonese books do you have in your bookstore?

I have Irene Vallejo because I have to have her. El infinito es un junco is one of the best sellers, but it is not a commercial book; a commercial book is a book that is written to order, that has certain parameters to be sold. El infinito en un junco is an extraordinary work, the secret is that Irene managed to do something very difficult, to explain the history of books for dummies, as I say. It’s not that her book is simple or we dummies, but that she tells it in a way that we all understand it and that we all believe we are great connoisseurs of history thanks to that book. That is very nice.

Speaking of Aragonese women, in your bookstore there is an armchair called Soledad Puértolas, Aragonese writer.

Yes, the Puértolas armchair. Soledad is a friend of the bookstore. I also have books by Sergio del Molino and I also have a couple of Aragonese authors that I can’t tell you about because they are going to publish now and they sent me the manuscript so I could see it. I really like to champion new names, unknown authors and small publishers.

How do you manage to hook younger readers? How many go to the bookstore?

That is a very difficult and hard subject, it is the most complicated. The first thing is that the reader, whatever age he is, wants to read. When someone wants to read, he will make an effort, but when a father comes to me asking for something for his son who doesn’t want to read, I can’t work miracles, I tell him that when he wants to read, he can come himself. When a young boy comes to me, I tell him to turn off his cell phone and put it in a drawer and they always laugh. The great enemy of books are platforms and screens, it’s not Amazon. You have to want to choose to put that aside and read a book. Despite everything, in the bookstore I have great little readers, from 12 to 18 years old. I stay with them and although I don’t have a lot of children’s and young adult literature, I focus on introducing them to the classics of juvenile and children’s literature.

Amapolas en octubre has become the fashionable bookstore in Madrid, many celebrities go there. How did you achieve this?

Celebrities and writers go to all the bookstores. Maybe the moment came when I started to do things differently, I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. I didn’t know anyone in the publishing world, I didn’t move in the groups of known people. I would love to know what the bookstore has because I would give it to all the people so that this would be filled with bookstores. If anything has saved me it has been my passion and enthusiasm… When people who have told me to put more books or other books, I haven’t because I wanted to be true to the bookstore I wanted to have.

Who has passed through your bookstore that surprised you or that you would never have imagined?

For me they are all readers. I was very surprised when Manuel Vicent came. When I opened the bookstore I put a photo of him with a blank space below, because I was always convinced that someday he would come and sign that photo.

You are coming to Zaragoza to ECI’s Ámbito Cultural on Monday the 14th to present the illustrated edition of your book. Have you ever presented this book in Zaragoza before?

I was there a long time ago, when the first edition came out. I presented it with Juan Bolea, I went to a small town in the Jornadas de Literatura y Mujer.

What will the presentation be like?

I’m looking forward to going to Zaragoza and I’m accompanied by Marta Fernández, who is a friend and a sensational writer. I don’t know what it will be like. I really like to take the temperature of the places when I arrive, I want to see what happens and then I’m sure it will flow. I hope to feel that emotion, 47 years later I return to the land where I was born.

Why did you decide to illustrate this book five years after it was published?

Because life is very generous with me. Fernando Vicente, who for me is one of the greats, made the poster for the Madrid Book Fair the first time I signed my book. I invited him to Amapolas, we met and he, his wife and I fell in love. Since then they have been friends of the bookstore, he has exhibited here… In an exhibition I was hanging the paintings and I said: “it should be great that Fernando Vicente illustrates a book for you”. And he said: “ask me”. Fernando usually only illustrates dead authors. When he told me he was going to try…

Your favorite book?

Depends on the day. What a tough question… it depends on the day. To tell you one would be to leave out all of them. But…. To Kill a Mockingbird, Little Women, Travels with Charley…. They are all very Yankee, I was trained as a reader in the USA.

Do you have a bookstore in Aragon?

Not my favorite, but I really want to go to Cálamo. When I published the book, I was there and I remember it fondly. When I go to a city it’s impossible not to go into a bookstore. I try to do a lot of networking with independent bookstores in Spain, booksellers should not compete, but share literature.

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