Have you read all these books?
I have several answers, including: – “I’m working on it.” or “Yup. Twice.”
Another one: “Do you read much?”
Me: “Four or five books a week.”
“I wish I had the time to read that much.”
Me: “It’s just a matter of priorities. I wish I had time to tidy the store and clean my house.”
Priorities are important, but often get forgotten. Or they change but we don’t notice – and sometimes the new priorities aren’t really ours. We’ve been sidetracked.
It’s a good idea, occasionally, to stop and think about what you’re doing and why. I think most of us used book sellers got into the business because we love books: surely not for the money, although we hope to make enough to be comfortable.
But then, in our attempts to get the businesses off the ground and make it profitable, we get caught up in the whole idea of more, bigger, better.
It’s easy to find yourself spending all your time listing internet books, tracking sales in the different sections of the store, keeping records of everything – is ebay outselling Amazon, is Abe selling anything?
Suddenly you aren’t a bookseller living the ideal life. You’re a business person, doing what they all do – crunching numbers and trying to improve the bottom line. No time to read. Going home worn out and numbed and plunking your butt down in front of the TV.
I did a poll on reading and tv habits a while back on the oldbookstore yahoo group. Not scientifically significant but: out of 30 people, 4 read 5+ books a week, 14 read 1-4 /week, 10 read 1-4/month, and 2 had no time to read.
On the tv/vcr/dvd part, 5 watched 3 or more hours per day, 21 watched 1-3 hours/day, and only 3 don’t own a television.
NO TIME TO READ?!?!? Then what’s the point? Watching TV? Isn’t that what you do when you don’t have a life and you’re just waiting to die?
You often hear that no one ever said, on their deathbed, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.” I can’t imagine anyone saying, “I wish I’d watched more TV.” Especially a bookseller.
My bookstore is only open Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. It brings in a bit of money. I have a couple of other sources of money. I do some renovations. I could move my store to a better location (almost any location would be better), but then I’d have to drive to work and work at it much harder. I’d make more money, but then I’d have less time to do other things – and yes, I do have other interests! A bit of gardening. I grow flowers & some food. I build solar collectors and try to get my energy consumption down. I make my own jam – rhubarb lime and ginger marmalade, huckleberry/raspberry jam.
A friend of mine asked me if I was worried about people switching to the Kindle or something like it, and not buying books any more. I said no. I’d just close the store, keep the books I still wanted to read, and I could probably get by. She laughed. She has a friend who is a multi-millionaire. He’s depressed because he’s lost several million dollars in the last 6 months. He still has several million left. I have very little and don’t care if the business folds. I wouldn’t mind having his money, but I’d rather be me than him.
To quote my friend Dennis*, “I am rich in books.”
Having read over what I’ve just written, I should put in a few caveats: I’m old, single, & established. I have no debts, mortgage, or rent. My children are self-supporting. So – easy for me to talk. We should each try to improve our stores, just don’t loose track of why you are doing it.
*Dennis runs Second Story Books in Springfield, Oregon. You can read his whole piece on ‘What is a Bookseller’ at http://wesellusedbooks.com/bookstores.html . It’s written as prose, but Dennis has a poet’s soul. I re-read this very month or two.
PS great nom de plume: F-Stop Fitzgerald – a book on photography