Independent Bookstores are special places. The folks who work at these stores are hand selected because they like to read and they like to talk about what they read. I am one of these people. I wasn’t sure before, but now working for my third Independent Bookstore, I’m pretty sure I qualify.
Working for an Indie bookstore is part selling books, and part creating community. We build relationships with customers and we know how to talk about books. We are called Booksellers because it defines what we do. Literally. But I have an issue with calling myself a Bookseller. It seems pretentious. I feel like I should be wearing black skinny jeans and glasses I don’t need. I feel like I need to have a copy of The Stranger in my messenger bag next to my gluten free sandwich, which is wrapped in recycled plastic. I just don’t like titles. Especially fluffy titles designed to make people feel more important.
I don’t take myself, or my job that seriously. I don’t feel comfortable injecting who I am as a person with the job I am paid to do. In my mind the two should remain separate, like church and state. Fish and cheese. Cats and sweaters. I’ve never called myself a teacher, or a bookseller, or an executive assistant. I’ve been all of those things, but those are just job titles. It doesn’t speak to who I am, just what I do.
But the Bookseller is a different animal. The Bookseller is someone who likes books more than people. The Bookseller is someone who knows that what you say you read and what you actually read are two different things. The Bookseller encounters people who are normally annoying, but find new opportunities when in a bookstore. The Bookseller is someone with definite opinions and those opinions are usually correct. The Bookseller takes pride when writing a Shelf Talker or a review for Booknotes, because it is their reputation on the line. For the Bookseller, the Staff Recs wall isn’t something to be taken lightly. It is something to think long and hard about. Unless you just want to win. If you want to win just put up Gone Girl and laugh about how easy it was. Like lambs to the slaughter.
I am a bookseller.
I guess I should take pride in that. This is a job I am good at. I read a lot of books, and I read many different kinds of books. I feel at home being around books all day. I like working with people who are interested in what I am reading. I am old enough to understand that people have different tastes in literature, but I also understand that good writing is good writing. And that has nothing to do with taste.
Developing a discerning taste, especially in determining what is worth reading and what is not, is not something that you can do overnight. It takes years of practice. And that is where your local independent Bookseller comes in. We are like cheat sheets. We’ve read everything so you don’t have to. We’ll point out the best books because we’ve read everything and we enjoy telling people what to read. Seriously. We hardly make any money, but it’s worth it just to be able to tell people what to read.
And the perks ain’t bad either. Free books! We get tons of ARCs or Galleys. These are advanced reading copies. Publishers send them out in hopes that bookstores will not only order them, but promote the book and the author attached. Getting to read the latest book by your favorite author BEFORE IT COMES OUT is an amazing feeling. Sometimes you find a first time author and just know they are about to become the next big thing. I remember reading an advanced copy of Life of Pi years ago and predicting it would become a classic. And a movie. I was right on both counts! I’m pretty sure I still have the ARC somewhere. It might be worth something in a bejillion years. We also get to meet authors and talk with publishers. I’ve met Octavia Butler, Donny Osmond, Brian Jaques, Howard Stern, and Julia Child. It might not sound exciting to you, but to us it’s like getting to meet Beyoncé. Or Nick Offerman.
Booksellers have good taste in literature. For the most part. But that’s the joy in it! Everyone has different tastes, and a good bookstore knows that. A good bookstore will hire a well rounded team of experienced, serious readers who can recommend the best in everything from Childrens to YA to History to Sex to Scifi to Business to Cooking… and so on. I’m filling a niche that nobody else can because nobody else is me.
I’m a Bookseller. I know books. Tell me what you like and I’ll give you what you need. I’m your pusherman.
* All illustrations from My Ideal Bookshelf, by Thessaly La Force and Jane Mount