The Hard Work of Bookselling

Josie Leavitt - April 29, 2016

So often people romanticize bookstore life as one of sitting comfortably, usually in a rocking chair, reading all dweightlifting-sportsman-cartoon-illustration-illustrations-strongman-athlete-41896524ay. This image, while lovely, is very far from the truth of bookstore life. The first thing I tell people who think we read all day is, well, actually, if you see staffers at bookstores reading, the store is likely to go out of business soon. We are busy all day and store work is surprisingly physical. The days can be long and there is a lot of hauling of boxes and many steps taken on a regular day, but throw offsite events into the mix and you really don’t need to belong to a gym.
Yesterday was a good example of the physicality of bookstore life. We had an event at the airport (yes, the airport: more on that next week) that involved heaps of work. Offsite events are always challenging because you’re bringing a tiny version of the store someplace else. In this instance, the event was a book festival, featuring 21 authors. Elizabeth very smartly worked with the authors to choose the two books they would be speaking about. Stocking all the backlist for an event this big would have bankrupted us, but still, having 42 books to bring was plenty.
Here’s the thing about bookstores: books are heavy. And boxes and boxes of books are heavier still. To get ready for the event we had to get the books in, receive them, and then put them in a bookfair on the computer, then rebox them. This repetitive work of opening and shelving books is second nature to me, but every time we have a new staffer, I can see that they’re a little stunned at how hard bookstore life is, often remarking at how heavy the boxes are. The average box of books from distributor order weigh around 35 pounds. That’s not that much if you’re just lifting it up and putting it down. But book boxes need to get hauled up to counters, often at awkward angles with a fair degree of twisting involved.
I loaded my car Wednesday with seven boxes of books. I actually did the math and it was over 200 pounds of books. Then Friday morning at 7:00 Elizabeth and I unloaded those boxes and the ones she had in her car. We got lucky and a very nice airport maintenance man lent us a fabulous dolly so only had to make one trip from the parking garage to the book site. Then we had to unpack each box and set up the books. Doesn’t sound like much, but all the boxes had to get lifted onto the table and unpacked. Then we repeated the process when we were done with the event, a mere 12 hours later. The other thing folks don’t think about is how long a bookseller’s day can be.
Add to the lifting of boxes, the walking involved in bookstore life, and you’ve got a pretty full workout. Elizabeth was wearing a pedometer yesterday and she took more than 13,000 steps. That’s over five miles!! She was surprised by this because she felt like she was sitting at the book table all day, but clearly, there was a lot more walking than she thought. By the end of the day we were both exhausted. And today I get to unload what didn’t sell, bring it into the store (in several trips because we only have a hand truck that can bring three boxes at a time), then process the sales and get returns ready – again, more lifting and hauling.
Basically, every day is a smaller version of this process. Some days I wish I could sit in a rocking chair and read, but I think about the money I’m saving on gym membership and I can’t help but smile when I come home and read on my couch.

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