I am a bookseller. I work in the glamorous, fast paced world of used books. While most people my age have graduated college and are either well on their way to their master’s degree or are solidly entrenched in the careers of their choosing, I work a cash register and struggle to remember the alphabet while explaining the difference between fiction and nonfiction to customers. I’m often asked by family and friends when I’m going to get a “real” job. I only make it worse by saying I’d like to go back to school. Everyone around me uses this cue to suggest any number of career options ranging from plausible (teacher, ultrasound technician, mortician) to ridiculous (“You like physics, right? Maybe you could go back to school and work at NASA!”). Here’s the thing, though. I don’t want to go back to school to get a new job; I want to go back to school for the personal feeling of accomplishment going back to school would give me. I love my job. Short of being fired or getting offered some sort of instant success acting job, which is about at likely as being offered a job at NASA, I’m not leaving the bookshop.
I get paid to be surrounded by books every day. If it weren’t for the customer service aspect and having to actually work from time to time, I’d think I was in heaven. I spend 40 hours a week hanging out with my awesome friends and discovering books I would never come across otherwise. My boss and I discussed Primeval during my last review. Where else am I going to get that?
Sure, retail has some big downsides, especially during the holiday season. I have little control over what hours I work, I deal with some pretty crabby and unreasonable people from time to time, and I am forced to listen to Christmas music. I bet morticians don’t have to listen to Kate Bush squealing out unintelligible lyrics that supposedly have something to do with the holidays. Yeah, that’s a downside.
But the good customers are so wonderful that they make up for the bad ones (most days). These are people who also enjoy bookstores. Many of them are proud of their nerdy interests and love to discuss them. I have superpowers- mainly that I can price books really fast and I can locate missing discs. These powers are only useful in a bookstore. Indeed, only in a bookstore would they be considered superpowers.
And sometimes I get to make recommendations. This is the best kind of customer interaction, especially if they like the same kinds of books I do. I get so excited when someone is looking for a sci-fi recommendation. I tend to drop whatever else I’m doing and get to the customer before one of my many sci-fi loving coworkers. It’s so satisfying and fun to introduce people to my favorite book friends! “Your son is 14, too old for YA, and looking to get into science fiction? Well, I’d start him with the classics. Here’s Stranger in a Strange Land, Dune, and The Mote in God’s Eye.” “You’re a Robert Heinlein fan but you’ve read everything he’s done and want something similar? Well, Spider Robinson was chosen to finish Heinlein’s last novel, Variable Star.” “You like Stephen King and sci-fi? Have you read Ship of Fools by Richard Paul Russo? It will give you nightmares but in a good way.”
I love it! I’m getting someone to read something they might not have picked up on their own. Hopefully they’ll like it, but even if they don’t, at least they tried something new. I love reading and I love seeing other people enjoying a good book.
Which is why I’m still a little bitter about something that happened to me in middle school.
Yesterday I finished reading Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. I’d never read it but always wanted to. I like the movie and I love me some dinosaurs. There are so few dinosaur novels that I am writing my own, just to have something to read. So why is it I’d never read Jurassic Park before now? It’s because of a mean bookseller.
When I was a kid I used to walk by this little used bookshop. They were between the library and Dairy Queen, so I was over there pretty often. In the summer they would keep their dollar paperbacks on a rack out on the sidewalk. One day when I was probably 11 or 12 I was walking by and saw a copy of Jurassic Park on the rack and decided to buy it. When I took it in to pay for it, the woman at the counter (who in my mind’s eye looks like some demon mash-up of the Wicked Witch of the West and the bride of Frankenstein from the Kenneth Branagh version but was probably a very normal looking woman just working a summer job) refused to sell it to me. She said it was nothing like the movie and I was too young for it. So I put my dollar back in my pocket and used it to buy ice cream.
I should have argued with her, saying that I read at a much higher reading level than my age. I read Romeo and Juliet in 4th grade, dammit! But I was a shy kid and I didn’t really use that kind of language for another few years. I could have gone and checked it out at the library, but I didn’t. Her warning got to me. Maybe she was right.
Having just finished the book, however, I can conclusively say she was wrong and if that shop hadn’t gone out of business years ago I’d go over there and give her a piece of my mind. It would’ve been right up my 11-year-old alley! Dinosaurs, science, and suspense! I couldn’t have asked for much more than that! I absolutely would’ve enjoyed it more than than I did now. Not that I didn’t like it, but I would’ve loved it then.
Why did she stop me? Why would a bookseller stop a kid from buying a book (unless it’s porn)? I don’t have any idea, but I’m going to recommend this one to the next kid who likes dinosaurs and wants something exciting to read. I’ll tell them it’s not much like the movie, but I think you’ll love it.
Because it is the holiday season and I have strong feelings on books, I’d like to make a couple recommendations. The ones above apply, except Dune which I’ve never actually been able to get through. If you like Harry Potter and/or Game of Thrones, I’d suggest The Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind. If you like Ender’s Game but think Orson Scott Card is a hit or miss author, read Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus. More of a nonfiction type? Mary Roach and Jennifer Ouelette write great science books for people who don’t necessarily know a ton about science (but even if you know a lot, they’re still fun). Or, if you’re not interested in any of that, ask a bookseller at your local bookstore what you should read. Most of us love to help.
And if you don’t recognize that image above, go watch Black Books.