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When I started at the corporate bookstore, there was a wonderful core of booksellers who worked at the information desk. I can only presume that the combined factors of paying very little and experimenting with hiring well-read hipsters created an environment where people who were very passionate about the cutting edges of literature, music, art and even fashion were all there at once. One of those two variables changed enough that the core of well-read hipsters gradually faded. (Replaced by many wonderful people, but the well-read geeks weren't as commercially viable as generalists who were good at sales. Another bookstore chain in even more trouble failed to make this adjustment and got burned worse but there were for or five other factors in their current situation.)

One of the other cool people and I, despite being up against a soccer mom and pseudo-intellectual businessperson culture, read voraciously and came up with books that the customers would enjoy and not realize were cool. We might have been inspired by Oprah choosing Garcia Marquez and everyone claiming to adore a book that we considered acceptable. I think the grand scheme, once we had realized that we could create a minor local hit by pushing it hard and making sure it was somewhat near in style to what they claimed to like we could sell enough to get more influence over what the store ordered. It never worked as well as we wanted it to. The chains don't trust their stores to choose their own inventory and the trend is toward only caring about sales histories of the author or topic at each branch rather than considering what customers would buy if they were exposed to it.

Here's the list of books(that I can remember) that we both approved of and (over a period of about two years) tried to keep in stock even though the powers that be resisted us often. The intent was to slip something into their library that was great and that they also would like if they actually read it. (Thus, I pushed Poe and Kiernan and Kafka and Ligotti and Mamatas and Evenson and darker philosophy and a bazillion other things, but these were the books we both, together, approved and sold the most copies of that wouldn't have otherwise been purchased.)

Calvino - Castle of Crossed Destinies (worked quite well with new agers)

Murakami - The Wind-up Bird Chronicles (post-college, changing careers, life transitions, "Thom Yorke from Radiohead loves this book.")

Carroll - White Apples (for relationship woes or burnout from chick lit)

Ruff - Set This House in Order ("They almost fall in love, but instead they go on a road trip!")

Gaiman - Neverwhere ("It's Alice in Wonderland for grown-ups!")

Dunn - Geek Love ("a family of circus entertainers accidentally start a wacky cult...")

Link - Stranger Things Happen (Short fiction was such a hard sell and I was so devoted to the book that I usually played the local author and small press angle. We sold a bunch.)

Brockmeier - The Truth About Celia ("Oh, you enjoyed the Lovely Bones...")

Rice - Pobby and Dingum ("It's about growing up and what it means to lose touch with imaginary friends." We get really lucky when a teacher loved it, made it a summer reading book and it caught on at several schools as summer reading.)

Clarke - Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell ("Harry Potter for grown-ups!")
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Quote overheard in a bookstore:

"Why would anyone drink hot chocolate when they can have lots of single malt scotch?"
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For a parsec, I'm seeing a confluence of clarity in the world. Why does everything only make sense to me when Mercury is in retrograde?

Yesterday, I noticed a gentleman chortling to himself and pointing at a magazine. He was like Burgess Meredith playing a Batman villian, engaging in multiple punchlines, tapping at the page and laughing to himself, ignoring anyone who was watching.

It was the new Consumer Reports, the one with SUVs on the cover. Ten minutes later, he was doing the same thing to a Boston Road Atlas. Whoever put him in the suit did a good job of dressing him.

[ profile] greygirlbeast is overwhelmed by support as her fans and netizens pour in financial support and well-wishes for medical issues:

[ profile] greygirlbeast is one of my favorite writers and all around creative people. Here's a letter about her books that someone wrote to her that says just about everything I would've said, if I'd written it *snicker*:

And she's sold a new SFnal story collection!

[ profile] lagringa is partway to that amazing thing that she so richly deserves as she finally gets to be a literary agent:

And last night, [ profile] buymeaclue, [ profile] nihilistic_kid and I had dessert, then with [ profile] infinitehotel, we had Chinese food and dessert a second time.

[ profile] nihilistic_kid made me laugh so hard that spicy sesame noodles shot out of my nose and sold me a copy of dgk goldberg's new short story collection ,
[ profile] infinitehotel gave me an ARC (from way back when) of Craig Clevenger's The Contortionist's Handbook (
and [ profile] buymeaclue reminded me that there was a point years ago where I was a gym rat.

And today is a day off. I guess it's okay that I'm not getting much done.

"If I had a life, I probably wouldn't notice...
If I had a mind, I wouldn't let it choose for me..."
Dismantled, Had A Life
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A six-year-old (or so) turns to his mom and says:

"Mommy, don't we already have that book at home?"

It's a fairly in-depth study of Taoism. I'm psyched that they have it prominently displayed enough for Junior to recognize it. I like knowing what books six-year-olds know are in their parents' homes.

"Yes, but Daddy writes in his copies of books and it's distracting."


"I've heard 'Eat, Pray, Love' is a great memoir but she talks about pizza. I don't want to read it because it might mess up my diet."
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About a week ago, I found a slip of paper on the floor saying:

Archer Meyor
Rick Hatchula

I wonder if the customer found any books, since both of the writers' names were spelled wrong.

A. J. Matthews was spelled really wrong, considering that I'm pretty sure the pen name outsells the real one.

( Hautala, Mayor )
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I'm mostly running the show at the registers when I'm at the box-shaped megabookplace.

This leads to a few odd exchanges because some of the attendees of the Crazy Bookstravaganza are shopped out and tuckered by the time they get to the counter. A personal favorite was:

"Would you like to purchase one of our membership cards?" (me)
"You're welcome." (their response)

No further communication on that one got more than a bemused but slightly rictus smile from either one of us.
(This led to the realization that I must ask the questions but that I cannot force the answers.)

And there've been a few others like that.

"Would you like gift receipts for these books?"
"No. They'd better like 'em."

A co-worker, a week or two ago, before it got as crazy as it is now and before we were open that day, did a wonderful bit that went something like:

"Somewhere, a future bookstore customer is stubbing their toe while getting the morning paper, they are forgetting their heart medication and becoming angry with the world around them, they are forgetting their coupons and gathering up change so they can pay in pennies...the flat tire is going to send them over the edge..."

Ideas like that were funny two weeks ago. Now they're a bit less funny.

PS --

If you're going to pay by check,
it will be helpful --
if you don't know which store you're in --
for you to ask.

Yes, as silly as that sounds
because no one wants to admit that they've shopped for hours and they don't know where they are,
but it's better to confess,
for you to admit that you don't know the name of the store you're in.

I'm serious it's better to ask,
rather than make something up that's not even close or even the name of a competitor:
There is no such thing as Mixleplik and Hoegbottlebreath Booksellers.

Ask, so you won't have to become saddened by your own stupidity as you rip the check up and wonder where you are...
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Heard the next aisle over, child had to be between five and seven based on voice...

"Mommy, I love you..."
"...But sometimes I hate you."

Mom, all earnestness, the tone mothers take when they spend time taking their children too seriously...

"Do you hate me right now?"

No, your child is savily ruminating on the dialectics of love, sketching a wee treatise on the philisophical ramifications of the mother-daughter bond.

Why do I think it's because Mommy thought baby was too young for Gossip Girl or Rainbow Party books? At least the tot wasn't wailing mightily over the Wiggles puzzle set while Mommy was too self-absorbed to remove the kid from the store, thereby refusing to spare everyone else's eardrums. That only happens a gagillion times a day.

Worse, is this the type of malevolent child who will threaten suicide at thirteen if she doesn't get a Mercedes?

(Other bookstore bit: A woman bought a Miles Davis best of, the Jay-Z Linkin Park mashup and a magazine on redesigning kitchens. Somehow this forms an unholy trinity for me. I picture her listening to both CDs at once, while tearing down cabinets.

Finally: Please don't buy best ofs. They're proof that you don't really care. Miles Davis may not be my cuppa, but he wouldn't want you buying his best ofs. Best ofs are only cool when the artist is so obscure that they don't deserve a best of. Then completists should get them for the b-sides.)
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There was an old lady who was lost in the parking lot and the bathroom at the same time. Or at least one of the two. I'd searched everywhere else. The family worried because she was "permanently addled" but laughed when the manager offered to call the police after ten minutes of looking. I guess the family was concerned that something bad had happened but weren't willing to face the potential mortification of explaining their former matriarch's mental instabilities to the cops. The women was found in the parking lot. I'm glad that I'm not currently a manager.

A young man with ripply muscles and a thin shirt (I've seen bigger men but not so well-defined so young) came in looking for Kierkegard's Adler book. He walked like he spent days at the gym and wanted everyone to know but it was okay because he was so flabbergastingly handsome. You know that kind of muscles that are so well shaped because the person even drinks too little water just so they'll look even more cut? Studly told me that the hardcover was over three dollars more but was worth it because it would look better on his shelf. I smiled halfway. He said, "I'm all about going big or going home." I'm still smiling some but part of it has turned into a strange shrinking violet wince that's painful for my face.

A med student who's a semi-regular palmed a twenty-dollar-bill quite well at the registers. She tucked it back out to pay for the books, wasn't trying to scam anyone, but had made the classic mistake of smiling happily right before she did her magic trick...Look at me, I can do it was a badly done trick but an amazingly dextrous move. I've seen a lot of magicians do worse. It's okay if she becomes a surgeon. Anyone that good at technique but lousy at showpersonship has to be able to cut people open with elan. Who cares if surgeons look good as long as they make perfect cuts...

(These snippets feel like bad Jonathan Carroll pastiches to me.)


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May 2009

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