Because I spend so much time brainstorming about how to find good books to put on the shelves I sometimes forget about the importance of crappy books (to use an idiom common in the trade). Today my first customer came in search of “Vanna Speaks,” which, as you all know, failed to win a Pulitzer in 1989, and is today rarely found within Ivy League curricula. My customer bought the book when it came out all those years ago, but foolishly lent it to an unreliable friend and never saw it again. She was hoping to replace the lost copy that she had once enjoyed so much and, thusly, is a consumer of multiple copies of this book. Sadly, I didn’t have one for her, but I was able to learn how she had come to be such a loyal reader: she thought it was a great job, Vanna White’s assistantship on Wheel of Fortune, and wanted to know how it all happened. Recently she met the now 50-plus year-old letter-turner and was reminded how impressive she seemed back then, and still is. This online review of the book accentuates its lasting merit: “Turns letters, writes books, does sit ups – I LOVE HER!!!”
Google contends that there have been 129,864,880 books published in the world. That means that for every 8 million titles out there, I can fit one in my store. So, if I do find a copy of “Vanna Speaks,” and I add it to the inventory, that means 7,999,999 other books must be turned down. This job is more complicated than I thought!
Last week I went to the opening of Lincoln. I might mention here that before I transformed myself into a bookseller, I owned a publishing business that created history wall charts. Just this past spring, I published a “History of the Civil War” wall chart, so recently I have been steeped in civil war history. For me the movie was just sensational, especially in the way it conveyed the political nature of the conflict. And the characterizations of so many historical figures was completely convincing. In any case, it gave me an opportunity to put together a display of Lincoln books and to talk about civil war history with customers, even those who might rather of have talked about something else. Here in the South, the Civil war remains a more energizing topic than in other regions. One customer, who bought Bill O’Reilly’s co-authored book about the Lincoln assassination, turned the discussion in a Tea Party direction. She alerted me to something she had just heard on television: Someone in Washington is trying to pass a law that would prevent business owners from telling employees what to do. I agreed that sounded like a bad thing, but I offered her the hope that since nobody would want that, she probably didn’t need to worry about it passing. She wasn’t mollified. “Nobody,” she said, “wanted a civil war and it happened.”
I did not open at midnight on Thanksgiving this past week. I did not open early on Friday either. And there were no lines outside my door. I did put a nice display of African American history books in the window, in case anyone asked if I was doing anything special for Black Friday. Nobody asked though. Flouting convention, I am waiting until December to put out my reserve boxes of Christmas books. As it turned out, most of my customers over the holiday weekend were shopping for themselves, and not for Christmas. I suppose to some people, a used book might seem like a last-minute act of desperation in the gift department, but I’ll be here when the panic sets in.