Someone recently asked me in relation to the pandemic’s formidable, sustained power “what life is like in the store these days, what’s different and what’s the same?” A singular traumatic event is more concise in its changes. The pandemic is more like reading the same book at different points in life: it casts us back upon ourselves for answers that are deceptively hard to define because we have changed ourselves. We have become unreliable narrators in our own stories.
One thing that has changed is that our relationship to books has become more permeable. Some books and sidelines have stopped selling because they are too close to home. Unsurprisingly, I haven’t sold a single box of the board game Pandemic during the pandemic. What has changed is that many of our customers, young and old, are hungry for what hasn’t changed, for fundamentally popular book series like Dog Man, or picture books like Bear Is a Bear, which have timeless, intergenerational themes. Normalcy has become a kind of escapism.
People are more careful and controlling of their children in the store and less careful of themselves. Some days it is as though an invisible barrier has lifted and all a sudden fraught, angry, starkly honest things get said which would never have been voiced before.
People are more open to trying something off-genre, as though the elasticity of norms is rubbing off in a good way. I have a much easier time putting good YA books in the unlikely hands of adults than ever before.
The insulation of pod life has certainly made our staff a special pod of its own. I feel very close to everyone working here.
It is true that the rhythms of the bookstore have changed but the main constant is the integral nature of books as intermediaries between where we are, where we’ve been, and where we want to be. And yet, nothing is untouched because the stakes of the most basic things have intensified, altering the calculus made upon the well-being of children and the well-being of the community. The appreciation for accordance with our own sensibility and irritation with the reverse reaches so far into life at the bookstore. Indeed, bookstore life is much like a manuscript which is undergoing a heavy edit, with the constant pressure of making it better set against the strains of implacable circumstances. In this, life at the bookstore is much like the protagonist of a book still in their tribulations stage.