Running a used books store hovers around #12 on the list of second careers retirees dream about, which begs the question: what is it in this “doomed” (according to the media; we say “Hmmph”) profession that appeals so? Jack and I sat down to make a list of the top 5 perks:
1) The customers. You’ll never meet sweeter, kookier, nicer people than those who frequent bookshops. I am tempted to add, particularly in a small town, but maybe it’s universal. Our customers tell us stories, bring us brownies, ask us to look at their rashes, suggest colors to paint our walls… They’re like a big extended family of near-and-far cousins.
2) Sorting the trade-ins. This is kind of bittersweet; we see SOOOOO many Pattersons, Cornwalls, Grishams. A grey twilight is threatening to eclipse our paranormal romance section. And yet, amidst the flood of oh-so-popular stuff, boxes come in with unique offerings; you lift the Reader’s Digest How To Manuals and find a slew of unknown titles–and your heartbeat accelerates.
I’d never heard of Prayers and Lies, but liked this debut novel about dysfunctional families. It was just lying there in a stack of Nicholas Sparks, humming a little tune to itself, waiting patiently to be discovered. That happens often enough to keep us excited.
3) Quips. Customers say the darndest things! They toss off comments that completely startle you with their wisdom. The other day as I bemoaned the economy an elderly customer shrugged. “I ain’t eatin’ cat food and the sun is shinin’,” he said. “Good’nuff fer today.”
4) Peacefulness. We don’t know why. Our personal lives are NOT peaceful at this time (though they are fun). And this peace thing is true of other bookshops we have visited. Books lining walls make a noise buffer? We don’t know, but bookshops are magically calm, and we can tell you that it’s not our influence as owners making it so. It just is.
5) The juxtaposition of predictability and unpredictability. This morning Jack said, “It’s Friday. Mr. L will be on the porch at 9:30, waiting for his Steinbecks.” Mr. L discovered Steinbeck late in life (his seventies) and has since been buying one per week. I asked Jack if finances held Mr. L back from getting a slew at once, and Jack doubled over with laughter. “I actually offered a deal on all we had, and Mr. L said, ‘Nah. What if I die ‘afore next weekend? Nobody else in my house’d read ’em.'”
Nancy comes Thursdays and gets Dragonlance books. Wendy (a customer, not me) buys True Crime every two weeks, on payday. Pitted against this, on any given day someone could waltz in and demand “everything you’ve got on Hawaii,” or take out his fiddle and play a tune–as a young lad did last week for Jack, without preamble. When he’d finished (to a round of applause from other shoppers) he asked, “You wanna stock my CD?” (Jack did.)
Being a bookslinger won’t make you rich, but it will make you happy.
(Don’t forget to scroll back to Aug. 14th and enter Caption Contest V. It’s fun, and you could win a free book!)