Counting Our Blessings

Cynthia Compton -- November 27th, 2019

It’s time again, fellow bookish tribe, to gather around the table and avoid sensitive topics of conversation in favor of fellowship and pie — and to give thanks for the many things we are grateful for. Before you pass the cranberry sauce and set up the Scrabble board, I want to pause and offer these thoughts of gratitude and accompanying petitions for the year to come:

….that while we may not be “booming” in the bookstore business, another year has passed and we are still here. Our bookstores are at the hearts of our communities, and provide an important reason that other businesses and homeowners choose to rent spaces and buy houses, and we continue to offer the haven of the third place to our fellow citizens. May we fill that role with dignity and full understanding of its importance, and may we wear the title of bookseller with pride.

….our voices, our tastes, and our literary curation matters. We continue to punch way above our weight class (or sing far above our range — just pick your metaphor) in promoting books and authors that we discover and champion. Let’s continue to be discerning readers, always open to new voices and ideas, and seek out the previously unheard, for those might be the most truthful stories of all.

…while we sadly bid tear-filled farewells to colleagues who close their stores, we continue to welcome many more new booksellers to our midst, and we are inspired by their energy, sometimes amused by their audacity, but always open to learn from their new ideas and diverse experience. May we build them up and offer a hand when needed, so that theirs is around to grasp in fellowship as we grow together.

…that just like all families, we will sometimes vehemently disagree and shout at each other, but it is our commitment to ideas that makes us argue, and our anger is born of passion for our truths, not of hatred for those who see things differently. Let us vow to listen more than we speak, and to hear with our hearts as well as our ears. Let’s model civil discourse in the way that we model literacy and respect for language, and not be afraid of dissent.

…as we decry technology and its negative effect on the attention span of our customers, the ease with which online competitors seduce our publisher partners and authors into avoiding or competing with our physical bookstores, and the ability to add layers of complexity to our daily business operations, I am still grateful for today’s ability to communicate seamlessly with each layer of our industry, without artificial barriers of title or location. A tweet about an ARC from a bookseller becomes a blurb in a publisher’s sales meeting, which in turn launches a relationship with an author, who reaches out to visit a remote city in person or remotely, touching the lives of a community of readers who are forever changed — all from keyboards and screens. Let’s keep our online world strictly in service of our mission to match books with readers, and leave all the unnecessary tech time  behind — for there are pages to turn, and stories to tell.

….while we won’t talk about politics, or religion, or anyone’s plan to marry or have children at the Thanksgiving table, let’s make the topic of money in our business just as easy to discuss as the weather. For margin, and credit, and operational expenses are as real as the stuffing on our plates, and we need to acknowledge and discuss them with our publisher partners, just as they need to share their budgets and break-evens for each title we carry. Let’s stop being “good with words, not with numbers” and do the math. It is good to love our work, but we must let the work love us back — by paying us real wages, building longterm security, and providing for the sustainability of every part of our industry. Let’s be open and honest about our budgets, our sales, and our margins, and let’s pool that knowledge to create success for all.

If you celebrate alone this week, or if time with your family is not part of your plans, know that there is a seat at any one of a thousand bookseller tables where you will be welcomed and fed.* If gatherings make you uncomfortable, let us make you a plate and bring it over. For we are family, bound not by surname or eye color, but rather our fondness for asking our very favorite question: What are you reading?

May your holiday be filled with gratitude for great books, good food, and the company of those you choose.

*The offer to feed you on Thanksgiving is very real, and while our time is short, we will respond with SOME type of holiday meal invitation for you over the season if you raise your hand below.

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About Cynthia Compton

Cynthia is the mom of 4 kids, a rescuer of English Bulldogs, and the owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Indiana. The 2600 sq. ft. childrens store was founded in 2003, and hosts daily story times and events, birthday parties, book clubs and a large summer reading program. She just completed her term on the board of the American Specialty Toy Retailers Assn, is a past president of the Great Lakes Bookseller Association, and her store was honored with the Pannell Award in 2013.

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