Friday, March 29, 2013

Thoughts of a Bookseller

When asked, in the normal flow of conversation, what I would do if I won the lottery, I, without hesitation, reply, "I would open an independent bookstore that sells new, used, and e-books, and whatever else, and I would hire the employees I know would be experts at saying, 'This book is amazing, you should read it!'" It would be a destination for anyone that just needed a good book. I say this with the full knowledge of the economy presently, and of the insane thought of doing something that would, in most places in the world today, be an utter failure.  But I don't think it would be.

I've come to the conclusion that I love reading.  But I love selling books more.  That reading is both a pleasurable time, an escape to another world, to experience other lives and to see emotions through the minds of other people. It is also a mechanism to gain knowledge of a product.  Much like eating the newest brand of Cheerios. But of course, much more enjoyable.  For reading a book results in reviews, at least, that's what I do after I've read a book and digested it, taken it apart, applied it to my life, related it to every experience I've had, applied philosophies, ideas, poetry, prose, art, and music to every nuance, painted the words in colors with a paintbrush upon a canvas, and sculpted a response to the words of another human being.  What does all this creation do?  It sells books on Amazon, or delivers information on Goodreads.  My thoughts languish out on my blogs and
my reviews for anyone to pick up and chew like licorice, and then to go buy the book and read it.  It's the end result, the conclusion of my efforts. And more than likely, I will never know the rewards of it, but it's good enough.

I've been a bookseller now for 10 years, and have always ended up on the merchandising side of
bookselling.  For good reason.  To enter into a bookstore, there is a clear division of workers. Thought processes that, when analyzed, become a picture of the relationship between the person and the books.  Selling books requires intimate knowledge of the books themselves, so when you know the books, you begin to love them.  There are very few retail locations in which the sellers fall in love with the things they are selling.  Cars maybe, motorcycles, those curmudgeons who love their rusty junk on American Pickers, but it's hard to imagine a grocer falling in love with the boxes of Cheerios.    When a box of cereal becomes outdated, it gets sent back, or thrown away (after credit is given, of course).  The same thing happens with books, but it's much harder for some booksellers to give up the books that are on the shelves that, for whatever reason, don't sell.  It could be the type of customer that frequents the store, or the fact that, shockingly, there are some authors that just don't sell well, no matter how popular they are.  I've blown the dust off of more the late Maeve Binchy's novels.  Case in point, I tried my hardest to merchandise the biography of Ted Turner at Borders some years ago.  I stacked them wherever I could stack them, thinking that, we're in Atlanta, and Ted Turner, for whatever you may think of his political stance, created the 24 hour news channel, something that has radically altered the way we think and communicate.  You could argue that Turner is as important in the history of the spread of ideas as Gutenberg was for the printing press.  But they didn't sell.  Even marked down to 50% off, they didn't sell.  So back they went.

Truth is, I took it as a personal affront that the books didn't sell, because it was somehow my fault that the customers didn't see the books, didn't see the value of the words within the pages.  That's why working in a bookstore is very hard, for a fine balance of revenue and merchandise credit must be there for a bookstore to make any profit.  When bookstore owners decide that they simply can't return the books because they love them, that's when they go out of business.  That's even true of the Friends of the Library bookstore at the Nancy Guinn Library in Conyers.  If we keep all the books forever, waiting for someone to come in, plop down a dollar, and take a book off, we'll never make any money because their won't be any new books, and thus, no one will come to buy the old ones that have already been seen month after month.  There are other workers in a bookstore that are adept at separating their love of books from selling the product in front of them.  They make valuable inventory workers, although many times there are disagreements between inventory and merchandising people.  It happens in every bookstore, even the FOL one, depending on the attitudes of the workers.

So if you ever find me in a Goodwill someplace, or at the Library, come ask me what good books are out there.  I'll find books that I loved, and that I know you will, too.  The joy of reading is only compounded when you're able to spread that joy to other readers.  It's the paradox of having your own mounting collection of books at home.  I know people, who have stacks upon stacks of books, boxes of them, even ones they have read, and they will remain there until they die.  But aren't those books, now having imparted the information in their pages, now more valuable if the words are given to someone else to digest?  Should not a book be read, then given away to someone else?  Of course not..... how silly that is to think about.  These are my books, and no one is going to touch them.  Except that's wrong, and we all know it.  We have fallen in love with our books, and we cannot let them go.  So we go about our lives, with our houses on our backs, as Thoreau would say, except our houses are filled with books, ones we cannot give up, for fear of losing the imaginary worlds within if somehow the physical book vanishes.  It's a complex problem, but one I'd just as soon have as not.  Far more serious is the house with no books, and the owner does not care.  So I shall go through, and weed and prune my books, as a gardener would, and pick the flowers I'm least likely to miss, and they will get donated.  But ask me, and I'll tell you of my garden, of my treasures within, and you can read them if you want.  I'll gladly give you a book, as long as I can replace it.  Now I'll close this chapter, and go read my book.


  1. Hey Denzil!
    I love to read but I dislike reading reviews of books. I want to find out about the book for myself!
    My joke is that I just want to tell people, "Here is a good book, READ IT!" without giving any information away about the book!
    My husband got an advanced reading copy of the book "Frozen In Time" by Mitchell Zuckoff and it was excellent! Don't read any reviews of it, it will spoil the surprise of it!
    (I TRULY only like to read non-fiction books. Tell me your favorite non-fiction, if you have any!)

  2. Excellent Non-Fiction books I would heartily recommend...

    Dove by Robin Lee Graham: An account of the author's sailing around the world, to find adventure, love, and God.

    The Architecture of Happiness by Alain De Boton. A soothing and informative account of modern architecture and how it effects our emotions.

    The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman: A history of telecommunications and how it effects the world's economy. Sometimes he lets his liberal point of view come out, but usually is a balanced and brilliant look at how fiber-optic lines, Indian Call centers, and the Internet has made the world a much smaller place.

    I always recommend anything by Neil Postman, an essayist who deals with how we communicate, how we think, and how technology has changed all that.

    If you can find them in used bookstores, pick up any of the many science collections by Isaac Asimov. Wonderful depictions of science in layman's terms.

    Speaking of adventure, pick up David Grann's The Lost City of Z. It's an account of Col. Fawcett's trip in the early 1900's into the depths of the Amazon to find a lost civilization. One of the last explorers to go where no man had gone before.

    For something really challenging, get the Audiobook (cause if you get the actual book, you'll not make it) of Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe. Quantum Physics, String Theory, and folding universes, all in a manner that anyone can understand. The Nova Special he did with his book is also very good.

    And for those who hate the dreaded misused apostrophe, Lynn Truss' Eats Shoots & Leaves is amazing, along with her treatise on manners, Talk to the Hand.

    Course, you can't go wrong with Thoreau's Walden or looking through and of Jung's psychology works (I've got a compendium of his best writings, The Jung Reader).

    Finally, there's those books that are non-fiction wrapped in a fictional framework. Gaardner's Sophie's World is a study of philosophers from Antiquity to Modern day, which is great if you can get past the framework of a young girl sneaking off to have philosophical discussions with an old man. My favorite (and I have an extra copy if you want to borrow it) is Neal Stephenson's Anathem. Take Plato, put him in a science-fiction parallel universe, add some aliens, and you never want the conversations to end, as long as the plot stays in the background. Also, look for Daniel Quinn's Ishmael, a way of looking at the world through the teachings of a talking Gorilla. All these books sound strange, even insulting, but they are all enthralling reads, with the last two being in my top favorite books.