by Jas Faulkner
A little over a year ago, I sat down and created a list of guidelines for dealing with misconceptions the public has about what writers do. It was directed at the newer members of the writing pool at another website. Last week I accidentally emailed it as a file to Sam and Tab, my bookseller buds down in Mississippi. They made me aware of my mistake and told me that with some small variations, the list could actually apply to booksellers as well as writers. Tab told me she read the list aloud and both of them more often than not shouted “YES!” or “AMEN” after each entry.
So, my Third Day of Christmas gift to the booksellers who read here, is your own list. I did this to let all of you know how much I appreciate that I can still go somewhere and find a store full of books to browse and buy.
1. You’re not working, you’re playing. Wouldn’t we all like to just traipse around a book store all day, flicking a duster here and there, pausing to sit on a stray ottoman and refresh your tender psyches with the sweet words of wisdom from Longfellow or the Upanishads or Candace Bushnell?
Of course the same person who murmurs that and treats you with a lemony smile misses the hours spent juggling the schedules of a graduate student with an instructor who declares schedules to be a tool of the bourgeoisie, a cashier who changes religions the way most people change underwear, and the octogenarian aunt of the owner’s wife. They also miss the evenings spent cleaning the befouled restrooms that you elect t o do because you feel indecent making your staff deal with filth they’re not paid enough to take care of. The fun of shrinkage is another bit of frivolity that is not open to these members of the retail greek chorus. Books that are no longer salable as new because someone allowed their baby to teeth on a corner while they browsed, the art books with plates removed by envious aesthetes, the books that are redolent of the trash that was stuffed on a shelf from a smuggled in lunch from Burger King…these are a few of your least favourite things.
2. I’ll only leave them here for a minute! OKTHNXBYE! I have often wondered if the “Children left here will be given…” signs originated at big box book stores or smaller book shops with a good children’s section. To these parents, your bookshop is the village that will raise their child while they shop and scarf Cinnabons their extra-marital distractions.
If your store doesn’t have a Susan Sto Helit who can inspire good behaviour (or at least fear) in the sproglings who are suddenly abandoned in your establishment, it falls upon some clerk whose day was already planned out to suspend all activity and act as a camp counselor until Mummy or Pop Pop deigns to return, often swanning out with tots in tow and nary a purchase for your trouble.
3. You CHARGE for BOOKS? How DARE you CHARGE for BOOKS! Littrachoor belongs to the AGES! How DARE you CHARGE for BOOKS! (aka “Why is this book so expensive?”) We know…we know… The owners and managers are not the only people who hear this. Cashiers, clerks, even visiting authors are sometimes cornered with a customers who demand an explanation for the cover price. Would a rundown of the economics of publishing make a difference? Probably not.
4. Do you know that book, the one by the guy that had the cover with the woman on it? It was usually recommended by somebody’s third cousin who has a store in Kitchener. He sells…books? No. That’s not right. I think he sells..no, don’t help me, Ellen. It’s just off of King Street, maybe eight blocks over or something. It’s a book with a blue title about a woman who does this thing and then she’s sorry about it. And people die. Damn, I wish I could think what it was…Wait! Wait! I remember it now! Anne of Green Gables! Do you carry that one?
5. Whether you know it or not, whether you mean to be or not, to some people, you’re a hero. The Librotraficante group in the southwestern US will testify to that. So will the young person without very much money you always seemed to overlook when they overstayed to finish the story they read with trying to stay out of everyone’s way because the book was so good but the price was just a little too rich for them right then. Same goes for the struggling authors who are grateful for the space to try to drum up some interest in their work. To those of us who love books and think of reading as breathing, you are sometimes our lifeline to everything that is good when so much else seems bent on being bad. For all of that and more, we thank you.
Happy New Year to all and to all a happy and prosperous 2013!