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Dream jobs: what it’s like to sell rare books for a living

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Izzy Hambley
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AN Envers

AN Devers, 38, is a rare book dealer and owner of The Second Shelf, a bookshop selling rare literature by women. She lives in north London with her son.

MY ALARM GOES OFF…

No later than 7.30am, but usually my son, who’s six, wakes me up earlier. I make us breakfast – porridge or a simple cheese quesadilla – and then if we have time, I let him watch a cartoon.

MY COMMUTE IS…

All right, actually. I walk my son to school then run home and change. I take the Tube to the shop, which is when I start talking to my staff over email and do some reading; there’s a magazine called Antiques Trade Gazette that I’m obsessed with. It has a great book section.

I’M RESPONSIBLE FOR…

Putting books by women into the right customers’ hands.

AN Envers
Daniel Hulme

I GOT THE JOB…

By making it. I was a freelance arts journalist writing about rare books when I noticed a lack of work by women at the fairs I visited. I used my savings to open a bookshop last November, which was really scary; if I had thought about it too much at the time I probably wouldn’t have done it.

MY TYPICAL DAY…

Starts at the shop. We’re hidden in what I think of as a secret courtyard in Soho. I’ve been holding on for dear life since we opened, and it isn’t slowing down. Social media helped us gain a following. And I love talking to my customers. Many are interested in the classics, such as Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë, but we also have unusual sections like Sisters of Sorcery – non-fiction about the occult.

Last year, we sold Jane Austen’s best friend’s copy of Sense And Sensibility for £20,000. I search high and low for books. I go to second-hand stores. I look at auction catalogues. I once found an old copy of a novel by Rebecca West at a stall in Paris that had this unusual Portuguese inscription. I looked into it and discovered it was given to a suffragette, who was also a princess, by Rebecca West herself. I stop for a sandwich around 3pm because we work shifts. In the afternoon, I might work on the details of an in-store event (a book signing or panel). I leave the shop around 6.30pm.

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MY GO-TO SNACK AT WORK IS…

Chocolate. We have a chocolate company in our courtyard; we all eat the samples.

WHEN I’M TIRED OR STRESSED I…

Bite my nails. They’re the worst.

MY MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT…

Was the day author Roxane Gay came into the shop. I had seen she was in London, so I tweeted that she should visit – and she did. She bought books and was super warm. At a time of self-doubt and stress, it was a moment that made all the difference in the world to me.

AN Envers
Daniel Hulme

MY WORST WORK HABIT IS…

Deciding what the most important thing that I have to do is. I’m not great at prioritising.

MY EMAIL INBOX…

Was chaos! We had 2,000 unsorted emails. It became such a pressing matter I got someone to help.

AFTER WORK…

I do bath time with my son and read to him. Once he’s in bed, I catch up on social media and think about what I need to promote (a book or event). Sometimes I write – I’m trying to finish my first book, which my editor would be thrilled about. I’m terrible at going to bed – it’s usually around 12am.

My Plan B: writer

I would write full-time. I love it. I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer since I was a child. While I’m working on my current book, which is non-fiction, right now, I definitely want to write a novel someday.

Images: Gemma Day