The Perks of Being a Bookseller

I’ve recently changed jobs, which is to say instead of selling books from a big shop in the city, I now sell books from a small shop in the suburbs. In name it’s the same position and utilises the same skill set, but a typical day in Old Bookshop looks quite different to a day in New Bookshop. I’m sure there’s good and bad to any job, however I’m in the quite fortuitous position of having liked my old job, liking my new job, and enjoying the perks that are part of the package.

It’s no secret that I like books; I’m following the wrong career path and writing a really incongruous blog otherwise. Books excite me. I chuckled smugly at my mother the other day because, being 30 years younger than she, there will be more new books published over the course of my remaining life expectancy than hers. It’s a ridiculous thing to feel smug over, because neither of us will live forever, and nearly the same amount of books will be published post-both-our-deaths. I’m all about taking the small victories where I can get them. Another of which is that I am privy to new books as soon as they are published, and now that I work for an independent, beforehand as well.

Before you ask (pointed glance towards my younger brother,) no I cannot get you a copy of The Winds of Winter. Not until the rest of the world can. Patience is a virtue I suggest you cultivate, as there’s no getting around that one, although I suppose you could try your hand at fan fiction if you’re getting really desperate. Anyway, my biggest problem right now is that my immediate To Be Read list is being overrun by queue-jumpers. I had my next four or five reads lined up, but every time I see an interesting title on the shelf of reading copies at work, I feel it my professional duty to dive in. Somewhere in my CV I’ve probably extolled my ability to manage competing priorities, and I think this is a genuine albeit very specific example of such. I could hardly contain my excitement when I discovered an advance copy of Sarah Winman’s yet-to-be-released Tin Man, and yet I had to until one of my colleagues was finished with it. Once I did get my greedy paws on it, I was prepared to cancel all plans until I finished it. I realised this would make me a crap friend and necessitate cancelling a lunch & ice skating date with a good mate whose birthday it was. Said mate understands this fine balancing act of time with people vs. time with books, and once our time-with-people requirements had been met, she and I sat in the back seat of the car, immersed in our own books, while another friend drove. Competing priorities managed.

But back to Tin Man. I’m reluctant to say much about it as I’m not sure of the protocol surrounding public announcements on something that is not publicly available until July 27, and I’m not a spokesperson for Sarah Winman, her publisher or any subsidiaries. Rest assured come the end of July, I’ll be singing specific praises atop every rooftop. In the meantime, I think it’s safe to tell you I loved the book and was heartbroken when it ended, mostly for the fact that it ended. I wanted to stay with it for a very long time, which is a solid indication that it will stay with me for similar duration. And I knew that this was the only time I could read it for the first time. I’ll read it again, and it will be the same and it will be different, or maybe it will be the same and I will be different, or perhaps the opposite is true. The first reading is done now either way and I’m chalking it up as a decisive win, man!

Free copies of brilliant books before the rest of the reading public are an obvious perk, and if you empathised with me through the previous paragraph, then you personally are another. Being around likeminded bookworms is another joy I hold dear to my heart. We don’t even have to have similar tastes (although it certainly helps) but if you like books, we will have a lot to talk about. I said exactly this to a woman I met on a bus tour around Europe earlier this year after I overheard her say, somewhere along a French motorway, she studied literature at uni. I was prepared to like her right away, and she and I had some brilliant conversations over the next month, and continue to do so from opposite sides of the world. Weeks later, in a bar in Prague, she told me how much she enjoyed witnessing a conversation between me and another woman, wherein I said I read 108 books in 2016, the other woman looked confused and asked “how?” and then I looked similarly confused because the answer seemed obvious. My whole trip was improved by the fact that I had identified an intelligent and bookish companion early on with whom I could discuss a whole world of ideas, including but not limited to what we had read. I still would’ve enjoyed my trip had my company been limited to those who respond to “I read a lot,” with “how,” but I wouldn’t have felt quite so enriched.

While I probably do spend more time reading than many of my well-read colleagues, at least I’m never met with confusion for it. I’ve been asked more than once if I’ve read everything, which as you can imagine strokes my already inflated ego, especially as it’s obviously so far from true or even possible. I’ll take the small victory once again though. I get a real kick out of talking books with these folk, the giving and receiving of personal recommendations, the lending and borrowing, and the disagreements we have over what constitutes a good book. I love that I can talk about my favourite things with some of my favourite people, and it’s all in a day’s work. Until a few weeks ago I worked with a particular chap with whom I’m also friends on GoodReads, and by glancing at each other’s profiles every now and then, literary discussions were generated without our even having to try. He’d hold up a book and say, “you’ve read this, haven’t you?” and away we’d go. Every few days I’d say, “what are you reading at the moment?” and that would see us through the rest of the day. Of course we did plenty of work besides, and it might take us several hours to exchange even a couple of sentences, but I found it reassuringly affirming to know I was in the right place with the right people. The funny thing is, he and I for the most part have pretty dissimilar literary tastes. And yet he reads my blog, I trust the recommendations he puts forth to me, and we’re never short on books to discuss. Which leads me to believe it’s not what we read that’s so important, or even why, it’s that we read at all that gives us (or at least me – I should not presume to speak for him or anyone else) this camaraderie and kinship. For me, our bookishness is my belonging, and another definite perk.

I’m super glad that working in a bookshop hasn’t ruined the act of visiting other bookshops for me, and I spent a lot of time hunting down bookshops and literary landmarks on my recent European sojourn. You could leave me in pretty much any city in the world and if I can find a bookshop or library, I’ll be happy, even if I don’t speak the language. Failing that, a café will do as I’ve always brought my own book with me. I’m a happy little bookseller, wherever I go. What’s more, my bookish travelling companion was happy to join me, and the one who didn’t understand how to read would charge on ahead, so I considered it another small win on both counts. I bet you don’t see accountants getting quite so excited to visit international accounting firms, or doctors with particular hospitals to include on holiday itineraries. Or maybe you do, but I bet they don’t look this excited. One might even say “perky.”