Sunday at the Bookstore

Josie Leavitt - August 17, 2009

Sunday at the bookstore is usually a slow day, especially when the temperature heads toward 90 degrees. Most folks are at the lake or beach. This is the day when the folks who do come in, have a little more time to chat. Today was a surprisingly sad day.

Usually the bookstore is filled with burbling babies and kids catching fire with reading. Parents are happy to share funny stories. Today, the question, "How are you?" was met with such honesty, by simple statements of fact, that I was stunned. One customer revealed that her marriage was shattered; another, that her otherwise healthy young husband (a man who’d been in the store buying books not three weeks ago) was recovering from surgery for a brain tumor.

I always think of the bookstore as a bar without the alcohol. People feel safe here; there is comfort in a place where the walls are lined with books. We are familiar faces to many who come in. Sometimes I feel like we’re the place people can speak their bad news first, almost like a trial run. I cannot say how many times we know before the kids, and sometimes before the husband or wife, that a marriage is ending. Illnesses are revealed in hushed whispers. Moves in and out of town are announced.

Book orders shift quickly as life deals hard blows. Mom’s House, Dad’s House for Kids and Helping Your Child Through Divorce get mixed in with Percy Jackson novels. Beating Cancer with Nutrition gets added to a smaller pile of novels. At these times, we also make a point of stocking a few more books than we might normally about divorce, or beef up our health section with a few more titles on beating cancer, so that a customer can quietly choose without having to special-order something aloud.

Just as we watch the children grow, we see customers fight battles. Battles with spouses that occasionally get played out in the store; battles with illness, especially cancer, with its varying stages of hair loss, and the ravages of chemo. Our town is small enough that we know how everyone is doing. Very occasionally, we lose someone. More often than not, we watch people slowly return to the vigorous people we knew and life goes on. It is an honor to be part of our customers’ lives. We share in their pain and their victories. There are days when just seeing someone walk in the door can almost make me cry, because I know they’re okay. Good booksellers are like good bartenders: we know when to leave people alone and we know when to ask, "Hey, are you okay?" We’re lucky that life tends to triumph.

As if to prove that point, my last customer of the day brought in her eleven-week-old English Shorthair Pointer puppy, Maisie Dobbs, as part of her socialization training. There is nothing like a rompy puppy with massive feet, tons of white spots, and puppy breath to help make a bad day a little better.

And just to make it fair, we’ll now carry more of The Perfect Puppy and How to Talk to Your Dog.

3 thoughts on “Sunday at the Bookstore

  1. Erin Murphy

    Oh, Josie, I honestly never realized what a caring profession bookselling is on an individual basis like this! But of course it makes all the sense in the world. Thanks for this peek behind the counter!

  2. Julianne "Kakkandar" Daggett

    My friends Alex “Alexandar the Great”, Deborah “Joysanna”, Kanae “Ami”, Amy “Oh Horror its a girl”, Stepehene “Lyynch”, Katie “Meryl”, me Julianne “John Dillenger”, and Isabelle “Isabella Swan” all love helping library patorns with their problems. We pick out manga for kids to read and tell them which ones they should read next and they tell us what to read next. Its great! And can sometimes turn into a therapy session for me, us, and the patrons.


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