We Asked New York’s Booksellers About Sally Rooney Fever

Published May 13, 2019

Sally Rooney has become quite the phenomenon in a certain circle of New York. Her second novel Normal People, her follow-up to the immensely popular Conversations with Friends, is the latest book-of-the-moment to fly off the shelves at indie bookstores by (mostly) millennial, (presumably) Brooklyn-based, creative field–adjacent types. She has been hailed by writers and celebrities alike (Emily Ratajkowski and Taylor Swift have publicly declared their fandom) for depicting the thorny, tangled intimate lives of the privileged. It’s no wonder that New Yorkers are finding themselves in her words, and that Rooney is being hailed as “the first great millennial author.” Here to offer dispatches from the front lines of Rooney Mania are five New York booksellers trying to keep up with the demand.

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MCNALLY JACKSON, WILLIAMSBURG, BROOKLYN

SAM, 32

“We sold 43 copies the first week, and then 21 copies the second week, and 12 copies the third week. It’s only been about a month. It’s the demographic that is very much at home here in the Williamsburg store: all the young literary hipsters. It’s more women, for sure. I mean, women read more fiction than men in the first place, though a healthy number of men are also buying it. People keep asking me if I have a favorite, and I haven’t thought hard enough about it to decide, but I have found them both to be like milkshakes. I just inhaled them. They’re either deceptively light or deceptively dark. I kind of don’t know which.”

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GREENLIGHT, FORT GREENE, BROOKLYN

PAIGE, 22

“The obvious answer as to who is buying it is white women, specifically younger white women. I mean, a lot of different people are buying it—occasionally older men, moms who come in with their kids. I heard these two women interchangeably discussing their kids’ elementary school and how much one of them liked the book, especially the sex in the book. A couple of weeks ago, before Normal People came out, Sally Rooney came to Brooklyn for a reading at Books Are Magic, and it was just packed. People would come in to the store around then, literally having conversations with their friends about it. I watched it turn into such a cultural phenomenon. So many people seem tired, like they want relief in a book. This one woman came in, dressed kind of cool, and she was like, ‘Okay, my therapist told me I have to read something that makes me look dumb when I pull it out.’ Obviously she was high-strung. She said she was having trouble enjoying reading for pleasure outside of intellectual stimulation. She was holding another book that was more literary. And I was just immediately like, ‘Well, you have to read this. Because the cover will totally make you look stupid.’ It’s so cheesy. It’s this yellow cover with these two white women’s faces on it. It just looks so rom-com-y.”

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BOOKBOOK, WEST VILLAGE, MANHATTAN

CAROLYN, 70

“Right now we’re running a sale because we’re closing. It’s busier than Christmas. We keep ordering seven, ten every day, but we don’t want to order so much that we have to return some—we lose money when we do that. We do get a lot of NYU students here. It’s mostly people in their 20s and 30s. The cover is easy, the title pops out at you. Like Sapiens—that book is also selling off the table. It’s a really simple cover, but it sells. Her other book, Conversations with Friends, I’m not sure that’s a great cover, but the book itself is crazy.”

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MCNALLY JACKSON, SOHO, MANHATTAN

JACOB, 39

“[Normal People] is the second best-selling book in the store. The first is Conversations with Friends. I would describe the average buyer of the book as a younger person, but honestly, it is selling kind of across demographics, like people in their maybe late teens, early 20s to people in their 60s. A lot of different types of people are buying it. It is a book of the moment. So many people who walk in the store are interested in it, if not just outright purchasing it. I did have one customer, she was probably 25. She came straight into the store and grabbed it. She told me that she had just finished Conversations with Friends like 10 minutes ago and just came straight to the store to buy the new one.”

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BOOK CULTURE, MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS, MANHATTAN

MICHAEL, 27

“We’ve sold 83 copies altogether, 37 in the first week. It’s just regular upper-middle class Manhattanite people buying it. It gears a bit more toward women, but I think that’s also the bias for new books in general. The cover isn’t as striking as Conversations with Friends—the Alex Katz—but it seems to be working all right.”