(I meant to have this continuation of my last post up sooner, but I unexpectedly started a new writing project on Monday. I know. You’re like, “But Cacy, I read your last post. I know you ain’t gots a job. You couldn’t find one spare second in all that newly found free time to meet a deadline of your self-imposed posting schedule?” To answer a question posed this week by Misty at Nothing Cannot Happen Today, how do I balance blog posting and an intense period of that other kind of writing? Not very well at all, it turns out. Anyway, Part Deux…)
As I looked at the empty shelves, the fixtures pushed to one side of the store, the big expanse of open carpet, I thought of what I’d learned while at this Borders. I don’t know if it’s just because I was at an especially awesome store, but working there made me an even bigger lover of books, and more appreciative of readers of all types. No matter what their genre or how completely opposite their tastes, book lovers all have one passion in common. It’s a passion for reading that doesn’t go away easily despite any changes the publishing industry will be forced to go through.
While at Borders, I learned about the little bit of influence a single minimum wage bookseller can have even though she is only a small cog in the big ol’ publishing industry machine. I understand why a stack of ARCs sat in the back offices. Customers do pay attention to what booksellers say, and to the Staff Recommendation bay.
But you know, booksellers also pay attention to what customers are saying. Okay, I shouldn’t speak for every bookstore employee, so I’ll amend that to I paid attention to what customers were saying.
I'll miss striking up conversations with customers and learning about the books they love. I’ve picked up certain titles specifically because a customer has told me I HAVE to read this book, or because I’ve seen so many customers flocking in to buy the latest novel of an author that wouldn’t have been on my radar otherwise. At least once, one of those customer-recommended books made it onto my slot on the Staff Recommendation bay.
The superbly awesome thing about the Staff Recommendation bay was that if we only had one copy of a book an employee wanted to recommend, we’d order more copies of it. Suddenly, there are six copies of what may be a little-known book in the store instead of one. Suddenly, that title is sitting in prime real estate, right at the front of the store. Suddenly, all six are sold. (It helped when an employee talked it up to anyone who’d listen.) Six books don't equal enough in sells to get an author onto a best seller's list, but maybe that represents six people wouldn't have known about the book otherwise.
Bookstores are major points-of-convergence for all kinds of readers. Booksellers can influence customers, yes. But additionally, through booksellers, customers influence other customers without ever having to say a word to one another. Even if a book recommended to me by a customer didn't make it onto my spot on the Staff Recommendation bay, I often still ended up mentioning it to other customers.
I don’t know how often I’ll go up to strangers in a bookstore and strike up a conversation now that I don’t have an excuse to do so, but it’ll be even harder to do that from here on because, more significant than the fact that I’ve lost a job, my neighborhood has lost a bookstore.
And it may surprise you to learn this, but there's a lack of mainstream bookstores in “the hood,” which is what many call my part of city.
When I was a kid, my family had to commute all the way to the other side of town to get to the nearest bookstores. And I had a regular appointment. A new Animorphs came out the first of every month. My parents probably paid more in gas on a trip there and back than I paid for the book I so desperately needed. (And how awesome are they for it?) Overtime, more bookstores opened a little closer to home, but still a trip there was always out of the way.
Then finally, it was there. Only ten minutes away. A bookstore near my neighborhood. It sat at a crossroads location, near enough to both sides of the track to be of service to a diversity of people, including my community.
Well, it was nice while it lasted.
Though I will continue to find my way into bookstores for a long while yet, there will be less “just swinging by” a bookstore because I happen to be in the area. It’s gone back to being an out of the way journey.
I know it is ridiculously easy to buy books online these days, but buying online doesn’t replace the experience of stepping into a bookstore. So often I made recommendations that I might never have bothered to bring up if I’d been making recommendations based solely on what they’d already picked up. Also, I’ve found and purchased books vastly different than anything else on my reading list because it was faced-out on a shelf.
Readers will always find books to read, because that’s what readers do, but I appreciate what bookstores contribute to the industry and I really wish what remains of Borders oodles of luck. I wish the same for Barnes and Nobles and all the independent bookstores out there too. After all, having to go out of my way to visit a bookstore is better than having no bookstore to go to at all.
Have a great weekend!