Thirst for Knowledge

Cynthia Compton - May 8, 2019

We live in a parched society. Across the retail landscape, thirsty customers carry giant plastic and metal water bottles with engineered lids that are more complicated than my running shoes, extra large Big Gulps with straws so long that they don’t require even a dip of the chin to access, steaming lidded coffee beverages with cryptic codes written in sharpie marker on the side : dbl caf 2shot soy -whip, and the frappa-whoopie-doozie-syruped domed cups of every hue and flavor. All of these seem critical to have in hand AT ALL TIMES – when driving, when walking and when shopping at the bookstore. Ideally, these should be consumed while also TALKING ON THE PHONE, so that both hands are occupied while trying to extricate a credit card from the tightly wedged stack inside the Kate Spade wristlet or the teeny tiny zipper pocket at the top of yoga pants.

This chronic dehydration affects all gender identifications, ethnicities, and age groups – in fact, the preschool set seems most acutely in need of constant liquid refreshment. Careful parents carry sippy cups, boxed drinks with straws, strange pouches of fruit slurry marketed to toddlers, and backup plastic bottles of just plain water. Cups collect at the edge of the train table, on the rug at story time, and tumble from strollers and pumpkin seats. The universal fear that a child might complete AN ENTIRE ERRAND without access to a beverage of their choice is seemingly paralyzing to the suburban mom and dad. Small sacks of tiny crackers, breakfast cereal and some kind of bottled “puffs” accompany the beverages, and leave their trails on every shop surface at knee-to-waist levels. Hence, shopkeepers spend large parts of their days picking up abandoned cups left scattered throughout the store, and a significant chunk of daily closing time washing out all the non-disposable cups, setting them out to dry overnight, and then carefully depositing them in the store Lost & Found each morning. Rarely are these receptacles reclaimed, leading one to believe that they are part of a large abandoned collection of travel sippies…. reassuring in its way, as clearly, this IS the industry that we booksellers might pursue if this whole literacy thing doesn’t work out.
On Saturday, a mother visited the store with her eight-year-old to pick out a present on the way to a birthday party. The child selected a lovely gift, and while it was being wrapped, she browsed the stack of paperbacks on the counter waiting to be shelved.   “Oh… Mom…. here’s that series that we started at school! There’s a new one! Can I have this book?” “How much?” “$4.99.” “No, you’ll only read that once.”
Then Mom picked up her venti drink in the white-cup-with-the-mermaid, reminded her daughter to “finish that frapp or bring it” and handed her the bag so that she could take a call. (It was probably her physician with the latest lab report on her electrolytes.)

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About Cynthia Compton

Cynthia is the owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Indiana, a 2600 sq. ft. childrens store founded in 2003. She serves on the board of the American Booksellers Association, is a past president of the Great Lakes Bookseller Association, and is a former member of the American Specialty Toy Retail Association board of directors. 4 Kids was honored with the Pannell Award in 2013 and has received numerous "best of" awards in the Indianapolis area. The opinions expressed in her posts are her own, and sometimes those of her english bulldogs.

4 thoughts on “Thirst for Knowledge

  1. Summer Dawn Laurie

    Cynthia, you are my hero. If only we could read this cautionary tale to every parent before bed. What a different perspective on “value” they might wake up with.

  2. Cynthia Compton

    You are so kind. And indeed, I support ANY reading of any kind before bedtime. Would you like a drink of water before you go to sleep?

  3. Carin Siegfried

    While working in a bookstore, I developed a real appreciation for glossy covers. As it is so easy to clean spilled coffee off them, unlike matte covers which are ruined. No, my store didn’t sell or serve coffee. And it was 20 years ago, when the problem wasn’t half what it is now. Good luck Cynthia!

    1. Cynthia Compton Post author

      Carin, I share your affection for glossy covers! Also, I think that books are a lot like living room carpet: white and black just show EVERYTHING, and should be avoided if at all possible. Thanks for the good wishes!


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