Friday, August 05, 2011

A Quick Word... 'Welcome To The Bookshop' (Clarion Writing Piece #2)

This is my second piece going up for the Clarion Write-a-thon.

If you'd like to buy a piece yourself you can do so for $5 (all funds going to charity).

Read about it and donate here.

This one is for Rach.


(Picture courtesy of Flickr: gadl)

Hello! Yes, come on in. Watch your step there, that bit can be a bit… oh and you'll have to twist and pull for that door.

That's it. Right. Yes! Welcome! The economic winds have been turning in the industry, but there are still a few customers left who like to wander and look at real dead-tree

books, and we're still happy to sell them, so we're a little down, sure, but not out yet.

It is a nice place isn't it? That new book smell makes me dizzy. There's a good team here too, so I think you'll fit in just fine.


What was that? Did you say relaxingl? Ha!

Sorry. I didn't mean to be so rude there… with the 'Ha!' and everything. It's just -

The problem with working in a bookshop, the really annoying thing that you will have to deal with every day, is that people can't imagine that selling books could be any more difficult than reading books. They will deny that they think this, but if you tell them you're working in one, they will almost certainly picture you behind the counter with your feet propped up on the desk flicking through an old Penguin Classic like Bernard Black.

What they probably won't picture are the day to day necessities of the industry. The trawling through stacks and stacks of new arrivals out the back because you are sure you saw that book somewhere today. The ordering, the pricing, the allocating, the posting. The invoicing and shipping of mountains of books which sends brave individuals to the computer for days on end. Clicking, clicking, clicking.

They won't see the idiots - perhaps because they sometimes are the idiots. The people who want that book with the green cover by the guy whose name sounds like "netherfield" but isn't actually "netherfield". Or a picture book about a girl who finally uses the potty after screaming at her mother, and amazingly, through sheer skill you find three of them before: "Oh, the girl's name has to be Monique. It's for a girl called Monique, so it's gotta be Monique."

They will infuriate you. They will send you searching for hours and hours through your afternoon for a particular book before announcing they bought it round the corner immediately after they left. (More likely: "Oh that's the title? I'll get it on Amazon.) The worst will yell at you that The Lord of the Rings was definitely written by J.K. Rowling, and that you are an idiot for even bothering to look it up under a different name. Often you are left wondering whether these people read anything at all. Yet while the customer is not always right, it is certainly never permissible to punch them in the face. A grave flaw in society's commercial rules.

You will come to envy those that work for chains like Woolworths and K-mart - with their uniforms, and regular schedules, and little stickers on their water-bottles to show that they haven't stolen them off the shelves. These will strike you as the hallmarks of simplicity, the signifiers of retail as a machine. These people talk in 'shifts', and 'rosters' - words that you will never use. For you there is only work. There is turning up in the morning when there are things to be done, and there is leaving when they are finished. There are long days, extended hours, and parents sitting in the car out the front, the heater on full, desperately fussing about how they will ever get tea ready in time.

You will be exhausted. You will live in the bookshop, and you will stress about the day's decisions and possible mistakes when you aren't in the bookshop. You may not of course sleep in the bookshop, but do not despair, the bookshop will find you in your dreams. You will spend many nights in the bookshop of night, which is rarely very different from the bookshop of waking.

And here's the absolute worst thing. The truly soul-destroying part. The thing that people will never understand, but which will make it a hundred times worse.

You will do all this because you love it.

As much as it drives you crazy, selling books is the best thing there is. When you pass someone one of your favourites and they walk away smiling, and later return and practically strangle you while demanding the next in the series with bleary eyes and drooping jaw, you will know that this is the best job in the world.

It's there in the old couple who comes in every week, bright and early, smiling and dressed the way you might dress for your brother's wedding. It's the parent who wants so desperately for their kid to start reading that they're begging for that magical book - and you know what it is. It's the look on a child's face, fifty pages from the end, huddled in a corner, when the entire store could explode in streamers and glitter and fireworks, and they would move only to turn the page. These things make the hard work worth it.

Because stress my friend, stress is nothing in the face of bright, shining worlds. Stress is nothing in the face of new friends and life-changing observations about places real, and more than real.

Stress is nothing in the face of magic.

And we booksellers -

We deal in magic.


  1. Note to other readers: do not pay Lyndon to write you something for Clarion. IT WILL BE SO GOOD IT WILL MAKE YOU CRY. And you will then have to make a further investment by going out to buy a frame so you can print it and hang it on your wall.

  2. So well written Lyndon - you nailed it on the head. Does make me miss the industry... and not at the same time! Apparently I used to answer the shop phone in my sleep!!

  3. I can relate to all of that I have seen the bookseller in action going out of his way to please while the parent waits in the car with the heater on!