“Can I work at your Bookstore?”

easy teen jobsJack and I have hired our fair share of students at the bookstore. And I cannot help but make an observation. (Yes, I’m turning into one of Those Adults.)

Lots of kids enter college wanting to be important, expecting to graduate into a cool job where they wear a suit and have Big Responsibilities. Except they kinda don’t get what that means, so they’re not planning well.

You can see it written on their foreheads when they show up at our door because they need a little spending money, or think a bookstore will look cool on their resume, or – God Forbid – their guidance counselor called and asked us to call them for an interview (for a job they haven’t applied to).

They’re thinking, What I do now doesn’t matter because I’m waiting for my life to start. I don’t have to care about this, because it isn’t related to my REAL life plans.

Helpful life hint: the bosses looking for people who can handle Big Responsibilities are not looking at the people who already do the job they want done; they’re looking for those one level below, hungry to get into the next layer of hierarchy. If you want big things to do, show you’re good at the small ones.

Putting books on a shelf may seem annoying and mindless to you, particularly if you roll your eyes. It isn’t, and if you also dust and straighten as you alphabetize, believe me, the boss notices. You have proved you understand the correlation between good looking product and sales. You get it; you problem-solve; you’re not an automaton.You also have the emotional intelligence to understand that insulting a job your boss does daily is unhelpful to your career advancement. That’s not just smart; it’s wise.

Wasting energy on small stuff can feel counterproductive to you at your young age, but it marks you as a good hire. Do it right, do it well, do it thoroughly, and you won’t be doing it long.

Case in point: I love the story a school librarian told about a kid she had in middle school, who was kinda ADHD and annoying other kids in the class because he got his work done early and then became disruptive. He got sent to the library to help out.

The librarian, recognizing bored intelligence when she saw it, asked him to alphabetize the early readers – a task equivalent to Sisyphus and his famous rock. But the kid started in, slowed by the fact that he kept going back to the first shelf every day and repairing the damage before moving on. Two months in, he was 3/4 done.

And then his family moved and he changed schools. So the librarian was astonished, about a week later, to see him after school. He’d asked for and received permission to ride his bike over “and finish those shelves. I can’t leave that undone. It will bug me.”

Call it ADHD/OCD gone wild; call it a work ethic; call it charming. The librarian called it when she saw it: this kid is gonna make something of himself someday.

And he did. The only reason we know about this episode from Bill Gates’s middle school career is because he went on to do a lot of other good work.

Pay attention to the jobs in front of you, kids. Other people are paying attention to how well you do them.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch, YA fiction

The Monday Book – The Romance of the Match – Herbert Manchester (The Diamond Match Co. 1926)

Jack’s unusual guest book review – if you want a copy we have one for sale – – –

“How many thousand or hundred thousand years man lived on earth before learning to use fire is unknown.”

How could anyone resist such an opening sentence as that? Well, I certainly couldn’t!

This booklet was published in the era of art deco and Agatha Christie’s introduction of Hercule Poirot. Its amazing cover is a product of those times. Inside one finds a mixture of 1920’s writing style and world-view. This non-fiction book is unashamedly a corporate promotion for the Diamond Match Company, and yet it tells a fascinating story of the use of fire over millennia and the evolvement of the match industry, including many terrible health hazards along the way. It rather surprisingly doesn’t shy away from the economic pressures on the match industry to continue with dangerous chemicals and chemical processes when others were available, despite the toll on the workers.

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Once it has covered the history of the use and harnessing of fire and the development of the match, however, it becomes much more of an outright promotion of the company and a panegyric for the founder W. A. Fairburn.

I found this booklet a complete delight, particularly for its amazingly bizarre mixture of history, art deco design, choice of font and the final page, comprised of a series of statements by the founder of the company, Mr. W. A. Fairburn, including what I assure you is a complete sentence –

“Diamond men have for years led the world in the art of match making; today they lead in the science of progressive invention, in the art of efficient production and distribution, in the inestimable virtues of brotherhood, equity and undying good fellowship, and in the courage and energy that knows no failure and acknowledges no defeat.”

Please note the semi-colon and the Oxford comma.

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It’s the Great Cat Reunion of 2015!

Jack and I have wanted to have a cat reunion for ages, but in the present economy travel money is tricky for people.

Plus some people think having a cat reunion is a crazy notion, and although they love the cat they got from us, they’re not going to travel to show it.

And you have to admit, having a bunch of cats in one place and time like that would be like, well, herding cats.

So our friend Elissa came up with a great idea, and created the BOOKSTORE CATS ADOPTION REUNION on Facebook. If you’ve adopted a cat from us (or placed a cat with us) we want to hear your stories, see your videos and pictures, and find out how things are going.

Send us your favorites, and let us do what the Internet was created for: ooh and over cats.

As an incentive, here’s our big boy Mal, who was adopted by David and Susan in North Carolina. Mal had a cleft palate and looked like he was ten minutes from dying. With a serious operation and a lot of TLC afterward, he gained health and vitality – plus weight. Pity he never gained brain cells, but that’s a separate story. mal 1And now, five pictures of Mal showing the transformation love and a little luck can bring. (They go in reverse order, from Mal on David and Susan’s couch to the Sunday afternoon we found him on our bookstore lawn and stashed him in the garage until we could get him to the vet.)

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mal 4mal 5

 

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The Monday Book: TURNING STONES by Marc Parent

“Mastering the art of good casework is a little like staring into the shuttering eyes of a rabid canine and saying “nice doggie” until you find a shotgun.”

parentSo says Marc Parent, a Wisconsin transplant who got hired by the Department of Social Services as a case worker in child protection in New York City, because he was from Wisconsin. They had a whole unit of Midwesterners.

I read this book on the recommendation of a friend, and it’s very like watching a reality TV show about social work in Brooklyn. The prologue of the book has a wonderful section about people who might read such a dysfunctional childhood book as voyeurs hoping to find out about sex scandals. I’ve never seen a guy deal so well with so few words with such an ugly element of human nature.

And then he dives into the job, including the fact that while he’s saving children’s lives he’s calculating his overtime, fussing about missing supper, and trying not to get stabbed with a kitchen knife. The book is fascinating, nicely paced between “scared to death gotta do this” and bored, paperworked to death “why am I doing this?”

The on-off-humor, the rush and relax nature of the book, make it feel like you’re really there. You can smell the mildew in “The Nursery,” the area where children taken from their parents are looked after until placements can be found. And fed bologna-and-mustard sandwiches by large women who keep themselves separate from the rest of the crew, and tie the kids’ shoelaces.

Parent’s writing is so descriptive with such word economy, you wonder how many times he has had to talk himself out of a corner. (And for the record, I disagree completely with him and with his fellow worker on the issue of pit bulls.)

The only chapter dealing with a sexually assaulted child is handled so beautifully, describing the interactions between police, nurses, the social workers, the child, and an anatomical doll. He writes with great sensitivity, but also great passion, about the night he could not help the little girl caught in trauma.

Parent also has a lovely comment about kids who “slip between the cracks,” saying they don’t; they slip between people’s fingers, because the entire system is made up of people who do their jobs well, or badly, or make mistakes, or go the extra distance. As he writes of one of his first phone calls with a child experiencing a psychotic episode, “Sean may have had his problems, but he was a smart kid – the day’s lesson was not lost on him, I’m certain. It wasn’t lost on me: It doesn’t matter how good you are at flag signals if no one is watching – the distress call is only as good as the person looking out for it.”

Parent ends the book talking about the day he contributed to the death of a child, the follow-up investigation, and his subsequent decisions about his career with great honesty. Blunt honesty that is somehow poetic.

That’s actually a good summation for this book: blunt honesty that is somehow poetic.

 

 

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SHELVING: THE FORGOTTEN ART

Our shopsitter Emily guest blogs on her shelving experiences

EmilyI like to organize. So in a bookstore where there’s always books coming in and out, daily, I feel these urges to put all the shelves in perfect order – alphabetical, by genre, all in a line, etc. Which has led me to stand in front of the shelves for a few days in a row now, head slightly tilted, sometimes just staring, sometimes repeating the alphabet out loud to myself, looking like a weirdo, trying to figure out what all these words on the spine mean and each bound object relates to each other.

I’ve discovered who Grace Livingston Hill is and that “inspirational romance” is quite popular (I’m going to have to try one, it sounds quite nice). I’ve seen parenting books that start with dealing with your own mommy issues and work through just about every month of the next twenty years of your life. There’s more gender in books than I’d ever realized before – clearly, some books are ladies’ books and some books are gents’ books. I’ve spent most of my time so far among the fiction books, and I’m totally impressed by the number of stories there are to tell in the world.

But one of the coolest parts has been realizing that all (or at least most) of these used books have come from someone else’s home, where they were sitting on someone else’s bookshelves or nightstand or closet floor. They probably all have a story to tell about the home they used to live in and how they got that slightly crooked spine. In my time here, the books on these shelves have already witnessed dozens of friendly faces, new and familiar, a rowdy game night, four cats who got adopted, and a strange lady who keeps staring at them, planning a master plan about how best to move them shelf to shelf to shelf just so they can get adopted, too. If only books could speak, right?

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The Monday Book: SHADOW TAG by Louise Erdrich

shadow tag This was a creepy book. On the one hand, it’s scarier and more ominous than many thrillers I’ve started but never finished. On the other, it’s about marriage. Draw your own conclusions.

If I had to choose one word to sum up this book, ironically enough it would be “Complex.” The complexities of how people exhibit love, whether love and hate really are two horns on the same goat, and what it means to belong to as opposed to live freely beside someone are all explored with some fairly high-concept stressers added. The couple are Native Americans. They are successful artists. They are alcoholics. And whether they love each other or use each other or even like each other is up for grabs in the eyes of the reader.

And get this: she creates that complex effect with simplicity. Her writing, lyrical though it is, is pretty simple. The dialogue where the couple are arguing about love and divorce, interjected with tossing a salad and setting the table, had me weeping with laughter. “You don’t understand love at all. Do you want croutons?”

Also, Irene, the writer, is writing two diaries at the same time to confuse her painter husband Gil, who is reading the one he thinks is real. And she gets confused between them herself. Which is kinda funny, kinda tragic.

What is clear is that chaos creates chaos creates complications, and that the kids are incredibly well-drawn characters in this novel. Your heart breaks over them, and I suspect no two people would read this book in quite the same way. It’s just a jumble of ideas that are strung together in a story line, and sometimes it’s a series of descriptions rather than a “this happened next.”

Which works and adds to the chaotic doomed feeling of the book.

All I can say is, don’t read this book if you’re in a really good mood, or a really bad one. Read it when you have time to think about the complexities, puzzle over the “why did she and why didn’t he” moments, and feel. You’re gonna need a lot of time to feel, and you’re not always going to know why you feel what you feel. At least, I didn’t.

Two head scratches and a thumbs up for this beautiful, scary novel.

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Getting Away from It All…..

Jack’s guest blog covers the dark side of nature…..

Wendy and I have a log cabin about two hours away that is very isolated, with no telephone, TV, internet or cell phone reception. It’s normally very restful and relaxing to hide away there for a few days. Wendy can get writing done there without distractions. The dogs love it because they can go off and wander to their hearts’ delight and there’s a pond for them to swim in.

And me? I can deal with the repairs and maintenance that are always needed there in our holiday dream home…..

But this time it was hot and thundery – VERY hot and thundery! With no breeze and no air conditioning I found myself becoming more and more lethargic. The dogs hardly moved except to dive into the pond and the only one to expend any energy was our ‘special’ kittie Hadley, who we’d taken as well as a treat.

Despite all that languid pressing heat, I still managed to deal with wasps’ nests, wood-boring bees, a ginormous wolf spider clinging to (Wendy says “carrying off”) a Mason jar in the sink, and get some weed-whacking done. Wendy got writing aplenty done and the dogs got so smelly in the pond they needed a bath this morning when we returned home. So all in all it was a success–at least for everyone but the spider.

Sometimes it’s good to get away. And sometimes, it’s better to get back to air conditioning – – –

 

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