After being gone from bookselling for a year, I’ve been able to really see why bookselling is so much fun and so hard. During this holiday season I have had the pleasure of working at the bookstore for a few shifts and I’ll be working heaps more in the next two weeks. There is nothing quite like the Flying Pig, or any indie bookstore, on the weekends before Christmas. Customers were streaming in and we were short-staffed, and Elizabeth and I were the two staffers working. To say that we were busy is an understatement.
I dusted off my Santa hat and worked this past Friday and Saturday. For the past year I’ve been the Development Director at the Pride Center of Vermont, the largest LGBTQ organization in the state. The work is fulfilling, taxing, and meaningful. And so is working at bookstore. What follows are a few observations from my bookstore weekend.
• Bookselling is very physical. By the end of Saturday’s eight-hour shift my shoulders from receiving, my hands hurt from shelving, my legs ached from running around the store all day, I got one paper cut, one cardboard burn. and almost sliced part of my thumb off wrapping a gift. And I didn’t get to eat lunch until 4.
• People are very kind. My appearance at the store generated many squeals of delight to see me behind the counter and there were many hugs exchanged. While the community I have is special to me, long-time bookstore customers are more like friends whose lives I’ve missed. Many happy stories were told about the past year. It was great to get caught up with so many people.
• No one has gotten any better at remembering a title. Really, if anything, it’s gotten worse. This year, because I’m not as up on the newest titles, a lot of these mysteries fell to Elizabeth to solve. And thank goodness for that. During a rare lull I tried to walk around the store and try to absorb titles. But really, someone came in and actually said, “I heard it somewhere. “The” is in the title, it’s about a woman.” And since this is no longer my livelihood, I laughed a tiny bit and said, “Could you give me more to go on, because right now I got nothing.”
• Children grow. A lot. Not seeing some of these kids for a full year, it was really clear to see just how much they’ve grown. So big and so mature. Kids who weren’t yet readers when I left are now picking their own chapter books. Many children have changed sections of the store, i.e. moved from chapter books to middle grade, middle grade to young adult, etc. It is fascinating to see them again as such evolving readers. One thing with kids that’s fun to watch is the look of confusion on their face seeing me behind the counter – “What are you doing here?” or “Why are you here?” (I got that one a lot from adults, too) slowly to turn to welcome.
• Handselling is a lot harder after changing careers and not staying up with books, kids’ books especially, nearly as much. The level of expertise needing to handsell well cannot be underestimated. There were long moments on Saturday when I stood in the middle grade section scratching my head, utterly clueless after being asked, “He’s a voracious reader, so I need to stick to the best of the new books.” Wow, tall order for me. Elizabeth and I slipped into our decades-old pattern of knowing when to bail the other out. I paid attention to what she was recommending so I’d be scratching my head less. I had forgotten that often the best part of a bookseller’s education comes from listening to other good booksellers
• I’m looking forward to working the next two weekends. This is the perfect situation: work the crazy, busy, insane days before the holidays and then just go to my other job and not have to work the slow and long days of January.
• Lastly, I love being able to wear my Santa hat again. Oh, and the sugarplums in their fancy dish on the counter taste wonderful this year.