You've Got Mail was never appealing to me in a romantic way; I do not understand how you can fall in love with someone who actively works to ruin your family business and lies about it? But Meg Ryan's bookstore seemed like a dream occupation. Now, as an adult and a bookseller, I can attest to the dreaminess fact, but there are definitely some things that booksellers would like you to know. So consider this a PSA from your local peddler of the written word. Was that an annoying phrase? I'm sure it was. Moving on.
I fell into bookselling by way of pure chance. I was a 24-year-old freelance writer working bar jobs to make ends meet and lacking any sort of clear direction (untreated anxiety and depression issues have a very cute way of de-railing you like that). I answered an open call for an unopened independent bookstore. I knew nothing about actually selling books; I applied anyway.
My first day, I shelved books for three hours. That's it. And for the first time in months, I felt... calm. Completely zen-ed out. Could I work the cash register? Uh, not well, but I could talk to customers about books for literal hours. Don't worry, I have since learned to rein that in.
Sure, it can get draining. Last week I had someone very condescendingly ask if I'd ever heard of Dostoevsky (yes, duh), I field plenty of comments from people shocked that a millennial knows how to read, and re-shelving children's books post-storytime is a true nightmare. But there is no other job like bookselling. Here's why we love it (and, TBH, why we don't):
1. No, we haven't read all the books in the store
We're not superheroes.
2. But we very much wish we could
Can you imagine?!
3. ...and sometimes we act like we have
A lot of us are know-it-alls - it makes us good at our job. It also means admitting that we haven't heard of a title or an author is physically painful, and we approach those situations the same way you approach forgetting a person's name: with a lot of pleasant smiles, nods, and vague exclamations.
4. Ask us for recommendations! Please! We love it! So much!
We get paid to have opinions about books. It is literally our job, and it's an amazing feeling to successfully recommend a book.
5. But if you are here just to take photos of books and then order them on Amazon, uh, that's rude
That is rude AF. Like, unspeakably so. If you ever visit a bookstore that bans phones, know that this is why.
6. We're used to interpreting mispronunciations and bits and pieces of titles
You that SNL sketch about the Mom Translator? It's like that, but all the time.
7. But we're not mind-readers when it comes to what you're looking for
Waving your hands around and repeating "blue cover???" is not helpful.
8. So we Google stuff. A lot.
Which is, uh, crazy, because Google is not a bookseller-only web tool. It's available to everyone. Just saying.
9. If you know a famous person shops in our store, please do not ask what they bought
Discussing a person's taste in books is an invasion of privacy, so don't ask. We won't tell you.
10. Shelving books is a skill
"If it was facing out when you picked it up / face it out when you put it back" is a new little ditty I've been working on.
11. Oh, and: Bookstores are not dying!
But they are on the endangered list. Buying from independent bookstores is not only important for the industry, it boosts the economic health of local communities and keeps publishers and writers (and booksellers) in business.
Images: Giphy (11); The Washington Post/The Washington Post/Getty Images