Monday, January 31, 2005

Shelf Life, Adventures From a Year in a Bookstore

Book 10 of ’05: Shelf Life by Suzanne Strempek Shea.

I once worked in a bookstore. It was the first Barnes & Noble in our part of Kansas. I was hired early and helped set up the store. I was working fulltime as administrative assistant to the Governor at the time and parttime, mostly weekends, in the bookstore. Another bookseller was the chief legal counsel for the board of regents. We just wanted to be around books. Plus, take advantage of the discount – 30 percent throughout the year, 40 percent on two days during the year, once at Christmas and once during the summer.

A lot of people were tapped to run the cash register. I rarely did. They liked me on the floor. I was good at shelving; faster than most. I was good at finding books for customers, at figuring out what people wanted, and at selling books, too. It was great fun and hard work. At the end of eight hours my legs ached. The floor is just a thin carpet over concrete. But I was never bored. The money wasn’t bad, a little above minimum wage. Generally, I turned it back over to Barnes & Noble in the form of book purchases.

Suzanne Strempek Shea captures some of my experiences. Her book is an account of a year at a small, but aggressive independent bookstore. I worked for a large chain. She was encouraged to be creative. We followed the dictates of corporate.

Her experiences with customers reflect my own. There are the customers who don’t remember the title or the name of the author, but know it was a red cover, sitting on that table or this shelf. Or the schoolchildren who had to have a certain book tonight because the report was due tomorrow.

Shelf Life was mildly entertaining, but it’s not a book I’d recommend. The interesting passages never rose to the level of fascinating and there were sections that fell absolutely flat.

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