29 7 / 2014
No one ever tells you that your customers might die.
Start your own business and you’ll get plenty of unasked-for advice. Plus, there’s all advice that you actually will seek out, beg for, and occasionally steal in the form of spying on similar businesses. But no one will say, “Don’t forget, your customers are people. People die.”
Or sometimes it’s just that they move. That woman that you get used to seeing regularly as she trades in paperbacks of Janet Evanovich or Elizabeth Peters mysteries? The one who makes you laugh and feel better about the day because she always manages to come in just after someone who is snippy or rude? She or her husband will get a new job in another state. They will leave and take their pleasant children with them. Or that teenage boy who came in over the course of several months to buy all the Orson Scott Card books one at a time with money that you somehow intuit he earned on his own? The one who was polite and well-mannered, always grateful to have a bookstore nearby? He’s going to join the military. He’s going to go to a faraway desert. You will never know what happens to him.
They don’t think you’re important. They might think that your store is important. Hopefully, they think the books they purchase are important, but you will not get letters. You won’t get a phone call. You are just part of their old life.
Oh, and then there’s that woman whose husband has Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t want to move. She tells you, tears in her eyes, that she will miss you, that they’re moving closer to their children, but away from their friends. She will come back when she can, but it will never be the same.
Sometimes it’s their family members who die. You will help a young family choose a book for a three-year-old boy whose baby brother got sick and didn’t make it. They are in tatters. It will break your heart, but you will also be deeply relieved to have any way in which to help them.
There is the woman who has shopped with you for years, always alone, who will one day reveal that her weight problem is associated with her immense grief. Her daughter, who you recognize in a photo, was never in the store with her that you can recall and has died, months ago. She will tell you that her daughter was beautiful and that you are a good listener. When she leaves, she will look so happy to have been able to talk about her daughter and you will weep uncontrollably.
But other times, it will be your customers who die. Sometimes, you aren’t terribly upset. There’s that nice former librarian who had cancer when you met her. You rejoiced when she was in remission, but when the cancer comes back, you somehow aren’t surprised. She has never looked healthy and you haven’t had the chance to get to know her. But then, when her friends are all in town for her funeral, they will come to your store because she loved it and suddenly you will be overcome.
The surprise of it will weigh on you. You will see names in the news, three family members dead all at once in a car crash, and you will be so shocked that the breath is taken from you. You will see their faces mix in your head with the covers of books they’ve bought and read, characters you have all loved, and the faces of the ones who survived, but are forever altered. You will dream about them. They will be there, quietly reading, in the background. You will wake up and cry, and even in doing so, you will feel foolish. No one would understand why this is so upsetting. You’re not even sure why it’s so upsetting. You just know that before there was a family of five and that they were all dear, even if they weren’t close to you. Then, in one day, they are a family of two and you doubt you’ll ever see them again. The weight of their grief, the knowledge that they get up every morning, just two, strikes you in odd moments and you have to distract yourself to keep from crying in the grocery store or in front of your still-alive customers.
Oh, and you’ll have to start a book club. You’ve never wanted to be in a book club? Doesn’t matter. You will. And you will be grateful for it. You will love those people. You will see them occasionally throughout the month, but it is that hour you spend as a group, railing against or rallying around the good and the bad books you read that will make you love them. And then terrible things will happen. One of them will have to deal with truly tragic events, but she will make it through.
And then another will stand before you one day and tell you that she’s dying. You will rearrange the reading order of your book list, knowing you can’t possibly read a certain book in nine months, when this woman that you love has just told you that her train out of town, as it were, will have been gone three months by then. When she comes in, you wonder if it’s the last time. You worry that the prognosis was overly optimistic. You will wonder how to ask how things are going. She is comfortable with talking about it, but you aren’t. You will find yourself feeling unimportant. If she’d moved, would she have sent you a letter? Except that this woman actually sends you postcards when she’s on vacation. So maybe she would. You’ll never know. She’ll never move though. You’ll wish she had moved. You’ll wish desperately that you knew how to handle this unwieldy situation.
But you won’t.
Selling books can break your heart. This is me, telling you. Because no one ever told me.
01 7 / 2014
10 6 / 2014
I’m finally reading The Fault in Our Stars because my store is hosting a new book club for tweens and this was their first choice. I’m barely into it at all and I get to this part where Augustus tells Hazel that she’s “a millennial Natalie Portman” and I had to put the book down. How old do people think Natalie Portman is? Because, guys, the real Natalie Portman actually IS A MILLENNIAL.
I know this because we’re the same age and I’m sure as hell not Gen X.
04 5 / 2014
08 3 / 2014
"This book about Martha Berry is SIGNED."
"That’s a gift inscription by someone named Rachel."
"But it’s a signature is what I’m saying."
At the store where I used to work, I once saw a manager mark down a book because it had writing in it…when the “writing” was Francesca Lia Block’s signature.
08 3 / 2014
25 2 / 2014