“Pick Me Up! Take Me Home!”
I’m a book, and I’m for sale at a reasonable price, hoping to find a home, but all I can do is wait. Whether I’m lying on a table or sitting on a shelf or am propped up in a spinner rack, until someone opens my pages I have no voice. I’m one among thousands in this bookstore alone, all of us competing with each other for attention, all of us silently crying the same thing: “Pick me up! Take me home!”
When the store is crowded, all of us get our hopes up. We can’t help it. But it’s discouraging to hear one person after another ask for something very specific and not give the rest of us so much as a single glance. I might be ten times more exciting or interesting than the book he thinks he wants, but does he see me at all? He doesn’t see any of us! It’s heartbreaking.
The crowd melts away. A few fortunate books are going to new homes. The rest of us go on waiting.
Then comes the deadly mid-afternoon lull. At last a man and woman enter the store! Quietly, intently, they peruse the tables and shelves. She picks up a large, new-ish used book and finds a comfortable chair, happily turning the pages, while he takes one old leatherbound volume after another off the shelf . It looks as if a couple of us are going to be lucky, and all of us hold our breath…. At last she puts her book back on the table, and he approaches the sales counter, asking the owner, “Will you work with me on this? I want it, but it doesn’t fit my budget.”
If books could sigh, a mighty wind would sweep the bookstore at this moment! How often have we heard the owner say to a sympathetic friend that if she can’t afford something at the grocery store she does without it! We know she has no health insurance. She commands no salary, has no paid vacation days, and she has never in her life (nor ever will) owned a new car. These sacrifices she has made gladly, just to bring us, the books, together in this wonderful place, to try to find homes for us! She is not running a yard sale! If one book doesn’t fit his budget, he could easily find another among the rest of us! She has prices as low as a dollar, as well as–.
But we’re books. We are books new and books used, paperback, clothbound, and leatherbound, fiction and nonfiction, history and mystery, classics and “beach” books, but only books, after all. We can’t argue on the owner’s behalf, any more than we can sigh. All we can do is wait….
She does more than that! She does not sit silently all day, like a spider in a web, but greets people as they come through the door, answers their questions, converses with them cheerfully about the weather, about dogs—and yes, about books. She really does love us! Every day she rearranges the tables and realigns books on the shelves.
Where there is a gap, she fills it. Where alphabetical order has broken down, she restores it. She tries, moreover, to give each of us a chance to shine.
Besides talking about us, she writes about us! She took me home once, filled my pages with sticky notes, and then one morning wrote a long piece about me for her blog, with numerous, delicious quotations. I’m still waiting….
For some of the new books, the very special ones, she has authors come to sign copies and read selections and meet the public, and I’ve seen how much work the preparation for those events involves. I know how hard she works for the authors and their books. And if only four people turn out, she keeps smiling at those who do and thanks them for coming and thanks the author for his or her time and keeps her heartache to herself, because what would be the point of doing anything else? She did all she could.
These days there’s a strange new phenomenon. As more and more readers turn from paper to electronic books, more and more amateur writers look to sell their printed books in stores. Sometimes the would-be sellers are also buyers, but often they’re not. One self-published author said he’d gone to reading only e-books, but the book he’d written would only be available on paper. What can a bookseller say in response? Even surrounded by books, it can sometimes be hard to find words!
The bookstore has been here for years, and I’m sure it’s easy for townsfolk to drive past, day after day, and hardly notice it. When they want donations for charity or have tickets or advertising to sell or posters to tape in the bookstore windows, they remember and stop by, but it’s always a quick stop, and before they hurry out they say to the owner, “I’ll be back to browse when I have more time.”
We, the books, know differently. They will never have more time. Every passing day their lives are one day shorter.
And we, the books, can’t wait here forever. Oh, we may last forever, if someone takes care of us, but we can’t expect this bookstore owner to keep a roof over our heads indefinitely if business falls off too far. She has to live somehow—if not as a bookseller, then as something else.
What would people say then as they drove down the street where we all once lived in hope?
“There used to be the sweetest bookstore there! It’s really too bad it’s gone.”
We are treasures. We are books. We are here, now.