Books are my life. I read as much as time allows, which is never enough. I write them (did I mention that my first young adult novel, Being Henry David, comes out March 1, 2013?). And I also sell them, working part-time as a bookseller at a fabulous independent bookstore called Willow Books, in Acton, MA. There, I spend blissful hours shelving new releases, recommending books to customers, writing the weekly newsletter, and chatting about books (and life) with a staff of incredibly smart, funny people. Yes, I love my job.
While working at a bookstore is not the most lucrative career move, it definitely has its perks. Getting my hands on new books before they hit the shelves, that’s one. Turning customers on to an author they will ultimately love, that’s another. And then there’s watching small children who can barely see over the counter buy their first books with handfuls of coins, and older kids whose eyes light up when they discover we have the latest book in the series they adore. The grown-up reader kids come in too, with that same aura of excited anticipation. There’s something so gratifying about ringing up a book, tucking in a bookmark, and knowing the person in front of me will soon be immersed in a magical world that exists only on the book’s pages and within the imagination. Did I mention I love my job?
Now, before I reveal the “secret” part of a bookseller’s job, I need to address the elephant in the room. Let’s just get this out of the way right up front and be done with it.
People are aware—and nobody more than booksellers—that the world of bookstores is dramatically changing. If we don’t have something in stock and offer to order it, some people like to hurl the word “Amazon” at us, like that’ll show us a thing or two. Take that, small independent bookstore. Then people come in and ask if we have e-readers or their accessories. Uh, well, no. We sell books. The old fashioned kind. That’s what we do.
For the record, the folks at my store, including (especially) the owner, don’t have our heads in the sand. We know what’s up, and we honestly recognize the value to customers of Amazon and e-readers. On occasion, we use them ourselves. We just believe there’s room for everybody at the table. Sure, the pessimists out there are saying traditional bound books and the bookstores that sell them are marching toward extinction. I disagree. Instead, I’d like to quote Mark Twain and say (on behalf of books and bookstores everywhere): “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Long live books, dammit!
There. That’s my rant. Now I’m done.
Back to “The Secret Life of the Bookseller,” and a (somewhat) intimate glimpse-behind-the-scenes. Sometimes, booksellers are called upon to be freelance therapists-of-sorts. People come in seeking books on, say, divorce, or strange ailments, or (yep) sexual dysfunction. It is important to assume a professional demeanor in these instances. Especially if you suddenly realize you know this person, from the PTA, the neighborhood, or church. (Yes, this has happened.) Awkward.
But it’s okay, I promise, because there is a professional code at work among booksellers, a pledge of confidentiality. Your secret is safe with us. We will not judge you if you buy graphic novels instead of history books, romances over classics, or Fifty Shades of Grey instead of Doctor Zhivago.
Just come in. Buy books, read them, and come back. I’d like to keep my job. Because, did I mention, I love my job?