Looking for ways to relax outside of work? Find a bookstore.
“I think bookstores are one of the last remaining ‘third places’ in our communities," Kym Havens, An Unlikely Story's events manager, said.
“I was the kid walking down the street reading a book,” said Kym Havens, events manager at Plainville’s An Unlikely Story bookstore. “I can read in the middle of a busy room and bring a book with me wherever I go. I read just about anything, from thrillers to historical fiction, fantasy, and horror.”
Havens landed in the book business at the advice of her mother-in-law and sister-in-law. She and her husband had just moved to the Boston area from California so he could pursue a career as a pastry chef. Working at a bookstore is a far cry from her former job as a swimsuit designer, but it’s been a dream career for Havens—from meeting and hosting authors to sailing across the store floor on her roller skates during trivia nights. “Never in my wildest dreams would I have guessed I’d host Henry Winkler, Chelsea Clinton, and the luminous Hank Phillippi Ryan,” said Havens. “I pinch myself sometimes, I love my job so much.”
The book buff also said she’s forged close connections and found many friends while working in bookstores, including Deb Sundin, who led Havens to her current role at An Unlikely Story. And beyond just her own personal experience, Havens feels that bookstores in general are a wonderful place to connect with others. “I think bookstores are one of the last remaining “third places” in our communities,” she said, referencing the theory coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg that all people have a location besides home and work where they can gather and relax. “People meet their friends here, play trivia, sit on the porch reading with an iced tea, and attend author events…No matter what kind of day I’m having, the moment I walk into the store I feel better.”
After 18 months of strictly virtual events, some have began to take place in person. And though the virtual events have been quite successful, Havens is thrilled to once again experience the energy of facilitating in-person readings, where folks can with authors and get their books signed. “Nothing can compare to the energy in the room when we have the room full of people, listening to the author talk about their process, where they get their ideas, and get to ask them questions,” said Havens. “We recently hosted Jeff Benedict with Mike Lynch for his book “The Dynasty.” There was a kid in the front row, all his Patriots gear on. He asked the last question, and Jeff brought him up on stage, got down on his knee, and answered the boy’s question. Everyone in the audience applauded, and it was just the most memorable moment! I can’t imagine any other place something like that could happen.”
To unwind from hosting buzzy events at the store, Havens loves to spend a rainy Saturday reading on the couch with her dog snuggled at her feet. Lately, she’s been on a thriller kick, including those by our September Book Club featured author, Hank Phillippi Ryan. “They’re really the perfect escape reading, because they’re usually so far from your daily life, but sometimes you can imagine yourself in the same situation,” she said. “Hank is one of those writers who draw you in on the first page. I never get distracted while reading one of her thrillers.”
Havens was especially taken by the character of Lily Atwood in “Her Perfect Life,” detailing how only Phillippi Ryan could craft such a character that both reveals the insider information about being a well-known news reporter—working on deadlines, knowing your best angles when you encounter adoring fans seeking selfies—while also offering a peek into the darker side of celebrity status.
For those looking to make their career in an indie bookstore, Havens said all you really need is the ability to strike up a conversation with a stranger when you see them reading a book you love. That love of stories—reading them, listening to them, telling them—is an enduring thing that connects us all to one another and ourselves.
“I moved around a lot when I was a kid, and the first thing I would do when I went to a new school was to find the library,” said Havens. “I was too shy to ask where it was, but I’d just walk around the school until I found it. All my favorite books were there, alphabetical by author so I knew right where to find them. I’d re-read my favorites and find so much comfort with my old friends.”
Join our virtual Book Club discussion
Join the Boston.com Book Club Tuesday, September 28 at 6 p.m. for a virtual discussion with An Unlikely Story‘s Kym Havens and featured guest Hank Phillippi Ryan, USA Today bestselling author of 13 twisty thrillers and Emmy award-winning reporter for Boston’s Channel 7. Hank will be discussing her new novel “Her Perfect Life,” which released on Sept. 14 and “The First to Lie,” which came out in paperback in January.
Register to join on Tuesday, Sept. 28 at 6 p.m.
Buy “Her Perfect Life”: Bookshop | An Unlikely Story
Buy “The First to Lie”: Bookshop | An Unlikely Story
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