Tag Archives: shelving books

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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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized

The Vagaries of History Shelf Sorting

Winston Churchill did say "We shall fight on the beaches, but...."

“We shall fight on the beaches…”

Do bookstore owners everywhere dread re-organizing the  history section? To me, this slog is something between an exercise in diplomacy and a stress test for depression.

To whom does “Western Civilization” refer, exactly? Do Romans go in Ancient History, or under Italy? And how does one divide Wars? (There are usually two or more countries involved, you know.)

Do World Wars I and II go under European or World history; how will South America and Australia feel about that? I have three books in here about South America, and finally wound up putting them in “Hispanic.” Yes, I know.

The Gulf Wars – ho boy. Middle East, or American History? Or in Christian Nonfiction, under St. Jude? (never mind)

Yes, I understand that the Enlightenment and Reformation were different in origin points and influences than the Renaissance, but I couldn’t fit the Renaissance on the Italian shelf because it’s also holding all those Caesar biographies, so those three epochs are bundled together.

Yes, I KNOW Africa is neither a country nor part of the United States, but African history and the American Civil War books wound up together because they took up a whole shelf between them and this arrangement kind of hid the fact that we have 900 books on the American Civil War and four on Africa, plus two on countries in Africa. It’s not a political statement.

The entire top shelf of the history section, stretching right around the corner from the two American shelves to the one European (and other) shelf, is consumed with the enigmatic category “White House.” It wasn’t sarcasm when I put Hilary’s It Takes a Village up there; where else could one place that?

But I didn’t think John Chretien (the Frankophile 20th prime minister of Canada) should be in White House; the French section had room. Yes, I know that Canada isn’t in Europe, thank you, sir.

What’s a bookstore owner to do? I’m tempted to just write “History, as written by its winners” on a sign and hang it above the shelves.

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Romantic Math

As incongruous as these two concepts may seem, bookslingers everywhere recognize the term: romances are to used book stores what fleas are to dog. What glitches are to healthcare.gov. What adverbs are to bad writers.

Jack and I began reducing our romances stock this fall, from their own outbuilding called The Luv Shack to four shelves inside. The goal was to get them down to a single, double-stacked shelf. And that’s when the laws of romantic math kicked in:

  • The number of old romances you box up to recycle, donate, or even dumpster after dark when the neighbors aren’t watching equals the number still on the shelves. In other words, the more you box, the more there are in your store.

    Spot the Bookseller

    Spot the Bookseller in this photo?

  • The more you reduce the price of your romances, the fewer people will buy them. “NOW ON CLEARANCE,  3 for $1!” goes to “10 for $1” slides to “$5 per box!” Yesterday I looked at two women paying for their cafe lunch and said “How’d you like a free box of romances each to take with you?” Their eyes grew wide with alarm and they all but raced out the door. They’re probably on Topix now, telling potential cafe customers: “Don’t go in there! They foist books off on you!”
  • The number of shirtless hunks lounging on–or under–the covers equals eternity–which is how long it will take you to box them. Don’t look. Laughing weakens your muscles.
  • The mere act of announcing on social media that you are reducing your romances stock will cause every Tina, Dot, and Harriet to bring you boxes of them. They take it personally when you say no: you’re rejecting romance? From them? It’s a delicate negotiation.
  • The amount of time you spend sorting books into families will exponentially expand as the number of books reduces. It takes awhile to realize those little icons alleged to make it easier for readers to see which series they want (like the spade and heart on maxi-pad packages, only different) are cross-referenced. “THIS SEASON: MAITLAND MATERNITY RETURNS TO TYLER WITH THE NEXT MCCORMICK BROTHERS FOR ROYAL WEDDINGS!” Give it up. Once you understand that cowboys are undercover sheiks and time-traveling Scotsmen are undercover Special Forces–there’s a lot of undercover in romances, tee hee–it becomes one big muddle. Plus that’s four hours of your life you’ll never get back again.
  • And last but not least, the laugh-out-loud stupidity of any given title you come across will be squared by the next title. I thought “Vampire under the Mistletoe” was the winner this year, until I found this little gem hiding at the back of a shelf:DSCN0278

Happy Christmas, everyone, and may the love in your life keep you warm!

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WTH Happened in Cookbooks?!

After a long period of neglectfulness because of Busy Life Syndrome, I moved with purpose and dusting rag yesterday afternoon toward the section of our bookstore housing Horror, Cookbooks, Hippie Interest and Crafting.

Yeah, we put ’em in the same room. Doesn’t everybody?

Anyway, it had been a good long month since any staff had touched the area, other than the quick sweep-n-mop that keeps us from drowning in doggie dander. For some reason, our black Lab Zora loves to doze evenings in the hallway between Homeopathic Health and Cookbooks. Maybe to a dog’s sensitive nose those books smell pleasantly of herbs and bacon. I don’t know.

The scene that met me was worse than anticipated: VC Andrews sat chumming it up in the knitting section. (I wonder what Debbie Macomber would say to that?) Brian Lumley was Cooking with Oprah, the hippies hanging with Stephen King. And the diabetes diet books leaned with a drunken slant against Cakes for Christmas.

A little neglect goes a long way. Over the next two hours, I bookwrangled the wild volumes into a semblance of order. I’m pretty sure Day of the Triffids snarled at me as I separated it from Wilderness Survival, but the world doesn’t need any more horror novels about plants gone bad.

The whole time I was pulling John Saul off Julia Child, that Boston Globe article about wealthy retirees buying “failed” bookstores and reopening them lay on my mind. It was a great article from a bookslinger’s perspective: how the bookstore is not only not dead, but in full-blown revival, climbing the charts of “most wanted retirement careers” to number eight from fifteen in just two short years.

But I hope those dear, sweet people understand that it’s a lot of work, and in many ways a lot of the same work over and over again. You will spend less time discussing Russian Literature than you will separating it from Amish Christian Romances.

Jack and I wish you well, you new crop of bookstore owners, and we wish you the joy that comes from co-mingled dust and ideas. You’re going to see a lot of both.

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Just Put the Books Away, Wendy….

Ever feel like life suddenly kicked you in the stomach? Yes, of course you have. We all have.

A friend of mine who, ironically enough, is  the director of a cancer center securing services for patients in rural Virginia, has cancer. She and I just finished doing a project together, one that made us both proud. We took six cancer patients into three different regional communities to let them tell the personal stories of their cancer journeys.

Leigh Ann will be making that all-too-personal journey herself, now.

So I walk through my bookstore, picking up boxes that have been sitting around waiting for someone to put them away. Shelving books is a calming activity, like playing intellectual solitaire with your whole body. Your feet walk, your brain processes, your hands move, tuck, tidy.

This in my hand is a mystery. It goes in the mystery room. A western. It goes to the mancave, under Guys with Big Guns. Ah, a history book; these are subcategorized by time period.

Keep walking, and put the books away, Wendy. The world is a random place and everything doesn’t happen for a reason. But when unreasonable things happen, God can make reason out of them. That’s what you know. That’s what being a Christian involves.

Leigh Ann is in God’s hands; these books are in yours. Put the books away, and say your prayers. Order is restored to a tilting universe by the simple daily acts of faith: the many, many people who are praying for Leigh Ann, her husband and her six-year-old daughter; and the hands of all the people who love her, moving through the day, making bread, pulling weeds, shelving books.

Work is prayer. Put the books away, Wendy. Keep order in your tiny corner of the world, and let God create Order in the big, wide, scary one.

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My Boyfriend’s Back….

Jack came home Saturday afternoon, after the usual hoopla with United flights that just can’t fly on time. He flung himself onto the bed and made up for lost time.

Oh, wait, that reads funny. What I mean to say is, he took a nap.

When the Kraken awoke, I gave him an orientation tour of the new, improved bookstore. He was actually pretty impressed. “You moved all this stuff yourself?”

We get by with a little help from our friends. Thanks, Wes, Rachael and Elizabeth, who gave me shelf screwing, board sanding, and book shifting support, respectively. And Jennifer and Leroy who offered food and electric wiring assistance. And Mark, who brought milk, and Ben, who hefted books, and the rest of the gang who did untold things so Jack wouldn’t have to when he got home.

And then we got right back into our routines. He’d been home about three hours when night fell, and we both did our usual hop onto the Net, this time tucked up in the new cozy chairs that face one another in the bookshop’s front room. Funny how, when you’re social networking with friends, the fact that your husband is sitting three feet away catching up on blogs he follows raises the quality of the talking you’re not doing. It’s just nicer. Cozier. A safe and happy place in a crazy world.

On Sunday we also we got right back into “here’s what needs to be done in the shop today,” relocating a few final shelves and cleaning the downstairs underfloor in prep for the hardwood going down, but you know, when your beloved is next to you, it really doesn’t matter if you’re saying, “I love you madly, passionately, deeply. Come here and kiss me, you romantic fool!” or “D’ya think bamboo flooring would be best here? It’s got a great consumer reports rating.”

‘Cause it’s him. And he’s here. And we’re happy.

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Why I’m not Blogging this Weekend

Driving back from Mt. Heritage Literary Festival, where I had taught a laughter-filled and successful workshop, the sun was shining, the buffalo were out (no really, there are some on that back road) and bees were humming among the blooming hillside clover. A perfect ending to a good day.

I had decided, since I would get back to the bookshop just before closing, to blow off the evening as a responsible adult, forget the laundry and the overdue writing, and kick back with a glass of red and a few episodes of my secret vice, Say Yes to the Dress. Then I’d write a nice cheery blog about my time at Mt. Heritage, take a cool bath with some scented talc, and pile into bed (while it was still daylight, maybe!) with a novel.

Pulling up in front of the bookstore, I watched a man exit and walk to a large pick-up, parked backwards so the bed faced the shop stairs. He scooped a he-man-sized stack into his arms and headed back up the stairs–just as my shopsitter exited the shop and went to the truck, where he performed the same actions.

A small sinking sensation gathered in my chest and worked its way down to my liver.

You guessed it: some 600 books, mostly hardbacks, had to be triaged, and quickly, as the shop’s front room floor had disappeared under the deluge. I began sorting and stacking, while faithful shopsitters Wes and Rachael trotted back and forth to the romance shed, the free book bin, and the bargain basement. I am proud to say that we got through this first round of sort-n-sift in about ten minutes, clearing some 200 books from the floor, but by then it was closing time, when Wes and Rach resume their normal lives.

No no, don’t worry about me, go on, I’ll be fine. Nothing planned this evening anyway.

book stacksGood thing. Fortunately, I’ll still have help.

Owen helps with books large book stacks It’s gonna be a long night…..

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