What working in a bookstore has taught me (so far)
. . . Truthfully, there are too many lessons to list.
My return to school (to study literature, of course) has forced me to make some tough decisions. The offer to live rent free in a cozy little house in a cozy little town (with none other than my newly minted fiancé) is one I can’t refuse. But, unfortunately, this joyous occasion first requires two sacrifices be made on my part. The first is to vacate my beautiful condo in the big city. A 660 sq/ft oasis, abandoned because it turns out that paying a mortgage on a full-time student’s/bookseller’s wage is not quite doable. Who’d have thunk it? Secondly, said bookseller’s wage is also being left behind as employers usually prefer not to pay someone for a job they no longer do.
I have quit the bookstore.
What a horrible, horrible phrase that is. Approximately a year ago to this day I was still pestering my local independents for a job, any job – just let me be near the books! And when the time finally came that I was welcomed into the wonderfully strange world of bookselling, quickly the aforementioned lessons began. And now, a random sampling:
1. People who shop at independent bookstores are bizarre. And I mean this in the most loving way possible. Not a shift went by that I wasn’t besieged by some odd/vague/rambling request. More often than not, the more the requester rambled, the more likely it was they weren’t actually requesting anything. They simply wanted to talk – and talk they did. The comments that accompanied these requests were on another level altogether. I was once told I had a “lovely aura”, which previously I’d only ever heard someone say in a movie. Truthfully, it was quite a nice compliment, but one that caused me to momentarily furrow my brow all the same. And as my experiences with folks of this kind span only one short year – I often wonder the tales a veteran bookseller could tell . . . any offerings?
2. People who work in independent bookstores are bizarre. Again, lovingly spoken. I have found myself to also be quite bizarre on many occasions, but this is something I’m used to. Something I’m not used to is a person who is so entirely eclectic that their staff picks shelf is lined with everything from Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel” to Nora Roberts’ “Dream Trilogy”. Another coworker had the capability to quote both Homer’s “The Iliad” and Homer Simpson at the drop of a hat. Impressive, n’est-ce pas? And, most admiringly, one had a head so full of juicy book-related knowledge that a complex computer inventory system was no match for the index of his superhuman brain. I am in awe of such people. I, with my basic knowledge of sci-fi and children’s lit, bow down humbly before you.
3. The word bizarre originally meant beard. This brings me to the most important of the random samplings of things working in a bookstore has taught me because . . . it came from a book. Over the last year, each time I found myself among the stacks I was bombarded with brand new information. Did you know that blue eyes are a human evolution that has occurred only over the last 10,000 years? Did you know that E. E. Cummings preferred to have his initials capitalized, and not the lowercase “e. e.” that we so often see? Did you know that the word bizarre comes from the Basque word bizar, meaning beard? On so on, and so forth . . .
On so on, and so forth! I have been bitten by the bookselling bug. What is it about the exchange of money for books (and sometimes books for books) that is so damn intoxicating? In my one year at a magical, cherry-wooded, speckle-carpeted, lemon pledge-scented bookstore I learned a lot of things, but the answer to that question – I still know not. So, it is goodbye/so long/fare thee well . . . for now. My new cozy little town has its own cozy little bookstore . . . perhaps they’re hiring?