The Sue Slade Interview

For this installment of The Miramichi Reader Interview, we wanted to find out more about booksellers. Books need to travel into the hands and hearts of readers. But how do they get there?
To investigate, I spent some time with Sue Slade of Dartmouth Book Exchange. Sue is an avid supporter of getting books circulated. She is a strong proponent of connecting readers to books and authors. After all, books are not useful just sitting on the shelf. This fits in perfectly with our feelings at The Miramichi Reader – books need to find their readers. Let’s meet Sue Slade, a bookseller, reviewer, and committed book lover.

Sue has a Bachelor of Child Study from Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax. After working with children and adults with Special Needs, she now has her midlife dream job of working with books. Dartmouth Book Exchange is a bookstore located in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia for the last 23 years. It is a locally owned, independent bookstore, which she has managed for about half that time. With hard work, Dartmouth Book Exchange has progressed and developed. Through her charismatic sharing centred around books and community, Sue has created an engaging cornerstone for authors, customers, and book lovers of all ages.

Sue Slade, welcome to The Miramichi Reader Interview.
How did you come to be doing this job as a bookseller at Dartmouth Book Exchange?

I started at DBE (Dartmouth Book Exchange) in Feb 2010 and worked my way up to Manager. The bookstore has evolved since then and so has my job.
Amy McIsaac has owned the store since September 2000, but we didn’t start carrying new local books until just before the Pandemic.
My goal for the store was to turn it from just a used bookstore into a ‘Book Boutique’. A place that supports Local Authors and provides a “Space” for the community to meet not just Local Authors, but other community members with a similar interest in reading.

You also write reviews and post them online. Do you review all genres? And, what’s your favourite genre to read and review?

I have always been an avid reader and shopper at Dartmouth Book Exchange, even before I started working there. I enjoy many genres including Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult, Middle Grade, Historical Fiction, and even Fantasy.
I started reviewing books by local authors once the Pandemic hit, to write a review once a week, which I have kept up with ever since. This led to the creation of a book club at the store in 2021, with a focus on reviewing local books.

Tell me more about your book club. I have heard it’s rather “unique”.

It is a book club like no other. There is no set genre, everybody doesn’t read the same book, and in fact, everyone brings a different book. The only criterion is that the book needs to be written by a local author, meaning that they live in Atlantic Canada.
During the meeting, we take turns talking about the book we brought and why the others should read it. In essence, we are reviewing it. After, it is placed into a basket. At the end of the meeting, the members get to pick a book out of the basket to take home. Most nights there are several genres including young adult, romance, fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction. When all is said and done, these meetings have turned into very enjoyable gatherings spent talking about local books. For more, here’s the link

This sharing of books has expanded beyond the store walls and into the community.

Yes, it has. In 2017 we started filling our local Little Free Libraries increasing book access in our community and surrounding areas. We regularly fill 12 but have filled almost 70 of them around the province. Check out the link for more information on the Little Free Libraries.

You have so many ideas for interesting events and draws, Blind Date with a Book being one of them. The “date” book is wrapped in brown butcher paper, with a few hints on the front to spark curiosity and interest. The shopper purchases their “date” and then is free to unwrap it and discover their date book. Tell me a bit more about that.

We started making up Blind Date Books in October 2014. Since then, I’d like to think that several love matches have been made. Here’s the link:

When did you start to include hosting authors and inviting them into the store?

We started hosting Author Events in June of 2018 with Nova Scotia author, Melanie Mosher. The first several were just book signings, but I thought we could do more. In August 2019, we were one of two bookstores in Canada to celebrate the first annual Bookstore Romance Day. We invited 3 authors who came into the store. Global News covered the event. This was a huge success and that was the next step in our learning curve. In the fall of the same year, we had our first Stories Night. We hosted author Steve Vernon, published by Nimbus Publishing and Vagrant Press. Joining us for Spooky Stories Night was professional storyteller Cindy Campbell-Stone. We discovered that our customers really enjoy and respond well to immersive events. We did two more: Halifax Explosion Night and I Read Canadian, both were big successes.

Sue Slade is pictured sitting at a table of books for sale.

In 2022, we expanded from three staff to five and did a couple of large immersive events: 25 Years of Harry Potter and A Romance Fiction Literary Salon. We also rented out the Avery Room at the Fairbanks Centre, in Dartmouth, and hosted Mary Janet MacDonald of Tunes and Wooden Spoons. The afternoon was described as an entertaining and first-rate Cape Breton Kitchen Party brought to Dartmouth!

Wow! This is a huge step into expansive creative events! I imagine they take a good chunk of planning and organizing. How long does it take to prepare for author events? It must take time from your private life.

Well, that all depends on the event. Some of these immersive events take not hours, but days of planning. We have one coming up: 115 years of Anne of Green Gables Tea. I have been working on it since March.
It’s always a balance between my home and work life. My son, Nicholas, is 15 and will be attending High School next year. Reading is such a big part of our life; he was 13 when he figured out devilled eggs weren’t green and very few people make pizzas that look like the hat from Cat in the Hat. I’m lucky to have a supportive husband, Paul, who respects my interests, at home and work. Plus, it gives him 100% control over the TV remote.

Sue, you’ve built a huge trust between you and publishers, authors, and customers. This is no easy feat. How do you think you accomplished this?

Most of what I do in the store, day-to-day, are all the tasks related to keeping the store organized with book orders, contacting authors, and arranging events. The only things I don’t do are pay the invoices and payroll. The joke at work is that I spend the money and the store owner, Amy, pays the bills.
I have worked hard to create a positive relationship with both our local authors and publishers which is expanding almost at a daily rate. Our community has come to rely on us at Dartmouth Book Exchange to put the relationship together so they can join us, whether online or in person, and enjoy a fun bookish escape.

Our time together has been a delightful and insightful dive into your world, Sue. How would you like to conclude our interview?

I would like to wrap it up with my review of the store that was inspired by the description of the teashop in ‘The Witches of New York’ by Ami McKay:

“Moonlight shone in the windows of the building where all the books were kept. Nestled beside Legends Barber Shop, the unassuming brick storefront was easy to miss. In modest letters, the lit sign read Dartmouth Book Exchange, with a neon open sign above the door. To most passersby, the place was neither remarkable nor inviting. To a select society, who listened to the whispers of friends and followed the store on social media, it was their happy place, a treasure trove for book lovers. The space inside was much bigger than what can be discerned from the outside, and the shelves were exceptionally organized. The women working behind the counter were highly knowledgeable and supportive of the local craft, and with a little whispered magic, they ensured their customer’s book needs were met. A hidden gem.”

Thank you, Sue Slade, of Dartmouth Book Exchange. You’ve inspired me. We look forward to reading your book reviews in The Miramichi Reader, coming soon.

Managing Editor

TMR’s Managing Editor Carrie Stanton has a BA in Political Science from the University of Calgary. She is the author of The Jewel and Beast Bot, and picture books, Emmie and the Fierce Dragon and The Gardener. Carrie loves to write stories that grow wings and transport readers everywhere.  She reads and enjoys stories from every genre.

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