Cristin Stickles (with the best Twitter handle ever @ThtsWhatSheRead), the Children’s & Young Adult Buyer at McNally Jackson Books in Manhattan, recently wrote about the very terrifying reality of Elf on the Shelf for BookRiot.
We’ve covered the dark underbelly of Christmas that is represented in this Elf on the Shelf; the implications of its promoting a snitching culture, the racial unrest it leads to, and the overall creepiness of it all. Stickles tackles these issues and more as she examines how this new holiday tradition “is a psychological weapon that perpetuates a culture of fear among children. Still worse, it makes parents active participants in the destruction of childhood wonder.”
She has also reached that point in the holiday retail world where, well, she’s gone a little crazy. It’s a normal condition, quite commonly found in anyone within the general retail working community this time of year, but usually reaches a more virulent and aggressive state among booksellers. That’s science.
Let’s not forget that this whole rant started while she was repeatedly circling a display using her retail Jedi powers to discover what book was missing. A book was missing, a book is always missing, and a true bookseller will always sense a disturbance within their displays.
The best booksellers out there are Jedis, they have to be; have you ever watched a bookseller explain to someone on Christmas Eve that the particular book they’re looking for is out of stock and no, it can’t be ordered in time? Did that customer then destroy the galaxy? Nope. Jedi Bookseller Mind Trick. It’s a thing.
Now that we’ve gotten completely off topic, and apparently tried to establish that the Elf on the Shelf are Stormtroopers and Santa is actually Emperor Palpatine (you have invited that evil into your homes people and only have yourselves to blame), you should go read Stickles’ original post and try, deep down, to remember that Christmas isn’t supposed to be about little snitching backstabbing elves, but a good, old-fashioned year round fear (respect) of your parents.
But, if you haven’t had several meltdowns and completely given up yet like I have, and you’re still out there shopping on Christmas Eve, at least do yourself a favor and just take what they give you.
Looking for a coffee-table pop-up book on late 19th century Japanese warships and you’re given a wonders of the world bargain book? Take it. Need a new charging cable for your Zune? Wait, what? Really? Had your heart set on picking up the bluray of “Star Wars: the Force Awakens” and you know it’s out because you saw it on Amazon—no! It’s pre-order! It just came out in theaters, why do you not understand how the world works? Take that copy of “the Wiz” the salesperson is trying to stab you in the face with and go away.
Those retail employees are one clueless customer away from falling to the Dark Side, and as someone who personally witnessed two Target employees earlier this week have a full-on lightsaber duel in the middle of the electronics section, a Retail Jedi who has given into the hate is not someone you want to mess with.
I may not work at a bookstore, but that doesn’t mean I’m no longer a bookseller. Gas Station Burrito Used Books is open for business
I used to joke that all of the books I was buying and stockpiling and collecting, (because collecting is just the word hoarders use to sound less creepy) was my retirement fund. One day I’d be retired with nothing else to do but write and drink coffee and read. And yell at those goddamned kids to get off my lawn. I can’t wait to yell at kids. And I’ll get to do all this while wearing dapper old man sweaters. Probably with my new slacks, since I’d be at the age then to use the word slacks without sounding creepy. I’d be an old, respectable, non-creepy book collecting, slacks wearing old man. Life would be good.
Life would be good because I’d finally get to read all these books that I bought over the years; the ones that sounded interesting enough to take as advanced readers, or to buy for a few dollars at a yard sale or used book sale. They were interesting enough to buy, but never quite interesting enough to read immediately. Or I’d start reading one only to get distracted by a dozen other equally interesting titles.
Unfortunately, it just isn’t possible to hold onto all these books anymore. As I may have to with my actual retirement fund (the one that allegedly has real money in it, depending on the mood of the stock market), it’s time to cash it in.
When I moved in with my girlfriend about 99% of my books had to get boxed up; we simply didn’t have the room in the apartment. This didn’t stop me from buying more books, you understand, it only meant that the ones I had before went into storage. I even bought second copies of books I knew were boxed up because it was easier than digging through my storage unit (read: my parent’s attic)
By sort, of course, I mean fight about what had to stay and what to go. Books are very serious in this house. There have been tears. Those tears may have been mine…
The plan was to donate the twenty or so boxes of books and movies that didn’t make the cut to the annual used book sale at the Kenmore Library, but we missed the drop-off. Nothing’s going on with that room yet, so I suppose we could shut the door and ignore them until next year, or even donate them somewhere else. But that would require me carrying all of those boxes down the stairs and making multiple trips to wherever. Look, they just put up another season of Longmire on Netflix, I don’t have time for that.
Or, instead, I could put them up for sale. Then I only have to carry the books down the stairs one at a time. As they sell. And people give me money. Much better plan.
The movies are all doubles from when we merged our collections, so don’t judge me for selling my Bourne collection. Don’t worry, dude, I still have copies.
And the books, well, they’re a little bit of everything. From titles I bought for school to ‘advanced readers’ publishers sent out ahead of a book’s release, to terrible late-night Wikipedia rabbit-hole induced used book purchases.
There’s good and bad, the expected and ‘why, just why’ titles. It’s going to take a while to get everything posted and organized and sorted, so check them out, bookmark the pages, and keep checking back.
I’m proud of all my books, even the ones I’m selling off. There was a reason I picked up everyone one of them, something in every one of these books that made me take it home. I hope you find something in there you like, too.
Let me tell you something about the people you’ll work with in a bookstore: there will be a lot of them. A bookstore is a retail store and working retail is not for the faint of heart. You need a strong back, a tough skin and a sick ability to be abused by customers and coworkers alike and still smile. A lot of them will be gone before you commit their names to memory, and some will stick around far past the point you feel they should. Some will have surprisingly little interest in reading or selling books, or in doing much of anything.
And then there are some who will remind you in everything they do that life should not be measured by sales trends and customer counts and goal sheets, its not all about the paycheck and the to-do lists; they will remind you that the most important stories in your bookstore are not the ones you’re selling, but those that you are experiencing. They will show you that the bookstore itself is your story, or at least part of it, and it is filled with characters who are boring, or quirky, infuriating, confusing (or just plain confused), energetic, heartbreaking and soul-saving. Some of these will be short stories, some will be stories that are never finished, some are epic narratives that span decades and intersect a thousand other stories in ways you could never expect.
Today, this lesson, is about one coworker specifically, because today (right now, actually) we’re celebrating the retirement of Gerriann, who has spent the last twenty-two years not only selling books and running bookclubs, but has kept us all smiling and sane, and more importantly, she’s fed us. A happy bookseller is the one who just a got a free meal, and Gerri has been the heart, soul and oven behind more well-fed booksellers and bookstore pot-lucks than you can imagine.
I was asked to write a short bio of Gerri to submit to our company newsletter, celebrating her service to company, to the store, to our customers, our staff and the world of literature in general. And in typical Gerrian fashion, she then basically wrote the article herself. Instead of letting me interview her, she left in my mailbox a completed (albeit brief) autobiography that began with her as a little girl, first falling in love with books. Easiest assignment I have ever had.
So, when it is so easy to overlook the people working at the stores we shop in, I want to share with you this article I “wrote” and let you meet a bookseller who’s well-deserved retirement is going to leave our store with a little less laughter and little bit hungrier, and with a great story for having known her.
“Growing up, reading was my favorite pastime, whether I was in my treehouse or riding my horse. Not surprisingly, the Black Stallion series was one of my favorites. And when I wasn’t reading, I spent a lot of time volunteering and working in children’s libraries, where my own passion for these stories developed into a deep knowledge of children’s literature.
In 1992, i was working for a clothing retailer when I heard from a friend that [the company] was hiring for two new stores in Western New York. On my lunch hour I went for an interview (I always kept a resume in my car) and was hired on the spot as an assistant manager in one of the stores. That was the start of my love affair with the bookselling business, and 20 years later, I’m still in love with it.
Now, I’m the merchandise manager. I love working the salesfloor with our great staff and talking to customers about our favorite books, recommending new authors to them and even learning of a few myself.
Thirteen years ago, I joined the Historical Fiction book club with Fay, who runs our children’s storytimes, and our group still has many of the same members years later. With each book we choose, I always do a little research about the time period and the facts surrounding the story and give a handout to the group to take our discussion beyond just the novels themselves.
My love of children’s literature from my time working in libraries has only grown… and has extended into my volunteering with Project Flight, a local literacy group that puts books into the hands of children around the world.
Next week, I will start a new chapter in the Book of Life: retirement. I plan to volunteer full time with Project Flight, and maybe even start a storytime or book club in my neighborhood school. And it’s a safe bet you’ll see me at the store, sitting by the fireplace, reading a great novel and sipping my latte.”
I just want to point out that apparently, Gerri loved reading so much, she could do it while riding a horse. If that kind of dedication doesn’t foreshadow a career in the book industry, I don’t know what does.
So, here’s to retirement; and to all the little things future booksellers will only hear about… to the lasagna and salad and cookies, and the brownies with Snickers or Andes mints (and once, an Andes mint wrapper), to vegetables from your garden, and keeping the yogurt your doctor forced you to eat in the freezer to pretend it was ice cream, to the bookseller you practically adopted, who ended up marrying your son, and stories about your crazy cat and grumpy husband, who I was terrified would answer the phone anytime I had to call you; to the sand and beach balls you put in the store’s front windows for your ‘books for the beach’ display, to letting us film a Jewish rapper’s music video in the back hallway. Lil Benji’s career never quite took off, but I’m sure he never forgot your support, even if you have no idea what I’m talking about.
Here’s to always having an enthusiastic and a little bit loopy “OK!” or “uh HUH!” ready no matter what the question or request, and whether or not those responses actually answered the question; and you coming down with pneumonia because someone sneezed in the breakroom, and every other diseases or physical ailment you’ve “contracted” over the years. Why we didn’t all chip in a buy you a John Travolta-esque bubble suit years ago, I have no idea.
Gerri, here’s to being the other half of our merchandising team, and keeping me sane(ish) simply by reminding me that the business may change but at the heart of it all, we’re there to share books and engage the people who walk through the doors. Without taking the time to do that we won’t sell a thing, and no one involved, not the book buyers or the booksellers, will remember why being a part of this bookstore is so important. And here’s to—wait, did I mention the Andes brownies already?
And here’s to your coworkers, one of the reasons you should want to work in a bookstore.