I recently went back to Pennsylvania for my dad’s 60th birthday. It’s always an interesting return to my roots when I go back. Instead of Scotch Ale, it’s Busch. Instead of KUGS, it’s WDVE Classic Rock. Instead of Kashi Honey Puffs, it’s Honey Smacks. And instead of a double tall white chocolate mocha with no whip, it’s Maxwell House, slightly weak. I love going home.Although the people I surround myself with here are very different from those I surrounded myself with when I still lived in PA (and still do when I go back), there’s one thing that rings true with both: Their interest in what I do as a bookseller. Is bookselling a mystical, mysterious profession? It certainly doesn’t seem like it to me, but I’ve now been in it so long that why should it? It’s what’s natural to me.
I guess people have a hard time wrapping their heads around choosing a profession in a field that seems to be so blatantly dying. I get this question a lot: “What do you think about the Kindle?” My answer is always the same: I have no problem with e-readers. I'm sure they’re handy for the constant traveler. Do I want one? Nah. Do I hope people can find a balance between their e-reader and their independent bookstore? Absolutely. I do have a problem with how Amazon is so monopolistic and how it throws temper tantrums when it doesn’t get its way (in the form of removing all the “buy” buttons of books by publishers who won’t play by “their” rules or severing all ties with affiliates in states that try to make them, you know, comply by business rules by making them collect sales tax).
Bookselling is a career of passion. We don’t get to read all day, like people often ask. Instead, we get to look for books that we swear are in our inventory, but just not in the right place on the shelf. We get to figure out what the book is that was featured on NPR sometime in the last 6 months on one of the morning programs…or maybe one of the evening ones. We get to explain to authors why their book isn’t featured on the front table and to publishers why ordering 25 copies of a debut novel just isn’t right for our store.
We do these things because we love books. We love talking about books. We love finding the perfect books for customers. We love watching little kids getting excited about books. I once heard a little boy who was sprawled in the kid’s section flipping through a Star Wars book yell to no one in particular, “THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING BOOK EVER!” That’s why we do this.
Yeah, it’s a tough business. Yeah, it gets stressful. And yeah, I worry about the future of independent bookstores. But I certainly hope I get to keep doing this as long as you all let me.