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Staff Profile: Kären Johansson

Every day that I walk onto the sales floor from where I hang my hat at Bookshop, in the business office, I count my lucky stars and know, without a doubt, that I am blessed to be part of such a stellar organization! Even in my first week at Bookshop, I knew I had arrived at a great landing place. I walked into the break room and saw that everyone was sitting there reading quietly while munching away on snacks or their lunch. In so many other work settings, especially during my 17 or so years in and around high tech, my well-worn habit of always carrying a book seemed only to separate me from my colleagues. Here, I was instantly and refreshingly part of a norm. This still never fails to amaze me.

As I started writing this, I realized my love affair with books began before I could really read. One of the ways babysitting happened in my childhood neighborhood was that the big kids, usually three or four together, would take the little kids down to the neighborhood library. They’d sit us down at these beautiful little highly polished tables and put a pile of books in front of us while they went off to do homework. My preschool buddies and I loved what we looked at, what the books felt like (not to mention, how grown up it seemed to be in a place without a parent in sight!). The fluff of paper, the residue of ink, and the eraser dust that made me sneeze filled those hours for me. In this very geeky way, those images and the graphical way I perceived words as pictures linger still.

Bookshop is an incredible place to cut your teeth in independent bookselling. While I was no stranger to the wiles of books and business, I was completely new to retail. Over time, I have come to understand: This world of selling is truly unique, and Bookshop’s mission reaches beyond the world of sales. It has a deep commitment that has humanity at its center and community as its focus. These values align with my own.

With the ongoing encouragement of the bookstore and the support of my family, I am in my second year of graduate school in applied anthropology at San José State University. There is an interesting relationship between my field of study and my work at the store. There are recurring questions in the applied program that define and describe the word applied in academic terms, but also in multiple other contexts. At Bookshop, I interact with many people with diverse abilities and backgrounds. This is a place where applied anthropology is alive and well!

Being immersed in the world of books is also an ideal place to be as an aspiring writer. While I happily crunch numbers in Bookshop’s accounting office, my brain seems to gather words through a kind of osmosis, delivering hints of the thousands of stories that surround me every time I walk in the door. The goal of the applied anthropologist is to illuminate stories not necessarily obvious or evident in order to understand a problem or situation, and to discover alternative possibilities that may bring about some kind of change for the better. Finding words to act on this understanding relies on a combination of research and written skills. Working at Bookshop has inspired me and helped refine both of these areas of scholarship. Walking through Bookshop is a learning experience. It’s like sampling a series of never-ending courses from a massive, magical catalog.

My partner and I had our first date at Bookshop 20-something years ago. Many dinners and movies later, we still spend a lot of our late date evenings perusing the mystery, nonfiction, and other sections of the store. Routinely coming to Bookshop reminds me of walking through the old bookstore and through the post-earthquake Booktent, dreaming about working here one day. How cool is it when your dream space and your wake-time are the same?


Kären Johansson has worked as an accountant in Bookshop’s business office for over seven years.
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