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Give a Good Read Week and Little Free Libraries

Give a Good Read Week runs through Sunday, September 22. Which book are you going to share? 

In 2009, Todd Bol created the first Little Free Library book exchange in the front yard of his home in Hudson, Wisconsin as a tribute to his mother—a teacher.

Ten years later there are more than 90,000 Little Free Library book exchanges in 91 countries, and all 50 U.S. states. There’s a good chance there’s one near you that you can donate to or browse. See if there’s one near you on this interactive map.

If you’ve always wanted to start your own Little Free Library, this is the perfect opportunity! Browse the ready-to-use libraries here, and blueprints for building your own library here. You can check out some of the incredibly creative libraries others have built here.

If you’re unable to install a Little Free Library near you, another option is the Impact Library Program, which provides no-cost Little Free Libraries to high-need communities throughout the U.S.

Those prebuilt libraries can be a little pricey, even with the sales they’re running, but you could always pick up the new picture book instead. By Miranda Paul and John Parra, “Little Libraries, Big Heroes” tells the story of the organization’s history and goals, from the very first Little Free Library.

If you’re able to donate to a Little Free Library near you, (or find a great book you can’t resist) don’t forget to share a photo on social media tagging @goodreads and using the hashtags #GiveAGoodRead and #LFL10.

What book would you love to donate?

A Christmas Miracle | the Reason I Want to Work in a Bookstore

It’s been a difficult Christmas.  But aren’t they all?

There are a lot of reasons that go into why; from the typical Christmas present buying stress that everyone feels to the typical Christmas present shopping stress that every retail employee feels (the knowledge that before or after your shift of dealing with stupid people, you have to become one of the stupid people); there’s certain ‘first Christmas’ jitters that comes with a new relationship, with new friends, new people.  All of these things, if left unchecked, can add a little more anxiety to the already rushed and overwhelming holiday season.

There’s the stress involved in surviving a retail Christmas when the team of people you depend on for exactly that—to survive; to make it out without too severe a nervous tick or a larger drinking problem then at the start—has changed.  A few months before the holiday season kicked into gear a total management shift left me with a team that I didn’t know.  This was a team pulled together from multiple stores, with new skills and ways of doing things.  I was depending on strangers, essentially, and counting on people I didn’t know to pull together during the most intense period of time in retail. That experience alone is already a difficult process, but to do it during the time of year when we’re already overworked and ready to collapse can be a recipe for disaster.

Yay… Christmas.

I’ve survived.  More or less.

I’ve survived because of something that happened to me the first Christmas I worked at the bookstore.  No, it wasn’t the Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen official fan club key-chain I found on the floor that year.  Sadly, that was lost when my car was broken into or I’d still have my store keys hanging from it.  (I’ve been on the lookout since for a new one, in case you come across one)  It wasn’t the keychain, it wasn’t a physical thing so much as it was something that happened.  I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this story, but it comes to me every once in a while when I get run down at work.  When I get exhausted, frustrated and question why I’m doing this, why I want to work here anymore, this is what I remember.  It’s good to have a story like this.

I was hired in the spring to work in the stockroom, but a week or two before Thanksgiving I got pulled out onto the book floor.  I was going up to the Show, right?  This was my big chance to help out at the customer service desk.  To the detriment of my sanity, I’ve remained out there pretty much ever since.  It seems, unfortunately, that I’m quite good at it.  I am apparently able to switch on this alternate persona of “Customer Service Matt” who is cheerful and talkative, and able to engage in smalltalk.

That’s how I ended up working Christmas Eve.  That’s how I ended up finding that Olsen twins key-chain.  That’s how, about a half hour or so before we closed, I met this mother.  At that point in the night we were all chomping at the bit a little.  We could taste the eggnog waiting at home and wanted to close up, sticker all the calendars half-off as quickly as possible and get out.  We were all in recovery mode, which means putting back together a store that just did two days’ worth of sales in eight hours.  We were tired.  We were dragging.  Everything hurt.

What customers were left fell into two categories: oblivious that it was Christmas Eve or pissed off at us that we didn’t have whatever book they just realized they needed.  The book they were looking for was either some obscure title that hasn’t been in print in this country in twenty years, or the must-have biography that year that’s been on backorder across the entire world since Thanksgiving.  You don’t want to deal with either group.  They’re both complete time-sucks.

A woman came up to me as I was straightening up a table. She was a little frazzled and asked about a specific children’s book.  Just what I needed.  Half an hour to go and I was forced to venture into the post-apocalyptic wasteland that was the Children’s Department.  On a Wednesday night in July you can’t get within five feet of Childrens’ without losing an hour of your life, but during the Christmas season?  You stumble out days later, disoriented and near death, hoping one of the girls from the café is nearby with a tray of cheesecake samples you can gorge yourself on.

It only got worse after looking up this title that I had never heard of before as it turned out we had one copy.  One.  It had come in back in July.  It could be anywhere.  It could be nowhere.  All I could imagine was ending my first retail Christmas by having my ass handed to me by this petite blonde woman over a kid’s book she had realized twenty minutes ago was the most important thing in the world to her.

And so we went to search the shelves, excavate the debris of discarded holiday purchases, forgotten coffee cups, narrowly avoiding a collapsing cardboard display, and what I hoped to Krampus was only a brownie mashed into the carpet.  I was a retail Indiana Jones on a quest for the one true cup—or book.  This was life or death.  The clock was ticking here; the first closing announcement was moments away.

In this situation you’re prepared for one of two reactions from the customer: a burning festive fury or utter indifference.  Either you don’t have the book and you just ruined their Christmas, in which case they will make sure you damn well know what a disappointment you are, or you have it and get a mumbled thank you (if that, in some cases) as they run for the registers.

But there it was!  I slid it off the shelf slowly, silently, in complete awe at its pristine condition.  I was as surprised as she was it was there and I have to admit, I was pretty proud of myself.  Deep down I didn’t expect her to share my excitement or even congratulate me on what I saw as winning a hard-fought battle.  It was less than that, I didn’t even expect a thank you.  I expected her to take the book and disappear into the fog of faceless, thankless customers that had come before her.

Instead, she hugged me.

With tears in her eyes she explained why, at the last minute, she needed this particular book.  Her son was sick.  He was spending his Christmas in the hospital and I got the impression that he had been hospitalized for a quite a while.  On Christmas Eve she had remembered this book, perhaps it was one she had read as a kid, that book that somehow retained all of wonder and excitement that Christmas possesses for you as a child and suddenly wanted to share that with him.  There was nothing more she wanted then to spend Christmas Eve reading it to her son.  More than any other gift, she wanted to read this story to him, she wanted to share this story, this piece of Christmas magic with him.

She said it was a Christmas miracle.  I’d heard that phrase a few times already, and countless times since.  Most of the time now we mean it more as a joke than anything else.  We found a book actually shelved alphabetically by author like it was supposed to be.  Christmas miracle.  More often than not we’d find that Christmas miracle in a pile of discarded books for us to put back on the shelf later that night.  That saying doesn’t carry much weight anymore.  The miracle lasts right up until the moment they see how long the line is.  But this one was.

I don’t know her name; I didn’t ask her son’s.  I didn’t ask what hospital he was in and I don’t know if he’s even still alive.  I believe he is.  I decided years ago he was, and not just because this would be a terrible story otherwise.  Of course, I wouldn’t recognize the woman now; it’s been too long and there have been too many faces since.  She could have come in a hundred times since then and I wouldn’t have known.  But I remember the tears in her eyes and I remember her story.

When this store, this job, when this holiday season that’s lost its spark starts crushing me and I feel defeated by the negativity of customers or coworkers, and expectations, by my own pessimism, and by the seemingly endless repetitious pointlessness of it all, I remember this story.

I remember there was one copy of that book, just one copy that had sat lost and ignored on the shelf, unwanted as the thousands of people tore at the titles around it.  One copy that, at the last minute, was needed to share this sliver of love and wonder and Christmas magic with a little boy too sick to spend Christmas Eve in his own bed at home.  I hope he remembers that story, and remembers to be thankful for the people he spends his holidays with, for the experiences each day that make all this worth it.  I hope he reads that book to his kids years from now and maybe he even tells them how their grandmother suddenly went out on Christmas Eve to find it for him they stayed up late while she read it to him.  He should add to his version of the story a terrible snow storm his mother had to battle through.  It might add a little more excitement to it.  A little embellishment isn’t so bad.  Over the years of remembering and clinging to this story I may have exaggerated my memory of it.  I might remember him as being much sicker then he was.  For all I know he only had a broken leg or his tonsils out, and his mother is a very emotional woman who unintentionally led me to believe the kid was on his deathbed. I like the story I have now. It’s a good story.  It’s special to me.

I hope the story that he has to be special for him.  I hope that picture book gives him a reason to find that something hopeful and brand new in a holiday that so many of us have buried beneath a pile of meaningless presents.

So I remember.

I remember this mother, running out at the last minute on Christmas Eve, not to buy some toy or other empty thing, but instead to buy this book, a story, an opportunity to create a beautiful memory in being able to read this story to her son.  That’s the only Christmas miracle I believe in.

Maybe you said it enough for both of us that night, with tears in your eyes and the excitement of going back to your son victorious, but I’m the one who should have said it.  Thank you.

Book Assault is a Very Serious Charge / part 1

Let’s call her Anna Smackers.

Anna is the mother of two little girls around eight and ten years old.

Anna is a fervent critic of the book Go the Fuck to Sleep, so much so that I’ve had to listen to her complaints about it on multiple occasions.  She has nothing else to do but complain apparently.

She isn’t alone in her condemnation of the book and of the message she finds in its picture book illustrations juxtaposed with alternating sweet lyrical rhymes and frustrated and profanity laced cries to go to sleep.

Karen Spear Zacharias wrote in a CNN.com article, “Still, there’s no denying the reason “Go the F*** to Sleep” should be kept out of reach of children is because of its violent language and because of the way it demeans children.”

You’re absolutely right, it should be kept out of reach of children—because it isn’t a fucking children’s book.  What, because it includes short, rhyming lines and illustrations it should be considered a kid’s book?  I’m pretty sure the Kama Sutra has illustrations as well, but I don’t hear any parental outrage over that.  What about The Giant Book of Dirty Limericks?  That has short, rhyming lines, lyrical almost and descriptive; that sounds pretty similar to the set up of a kid’s book.  Yet, I don’t have customers coming and complaining about our sex books or dirty limericks.

Let’s ballpark it here, I’m going to call it about four- to six-hundred sex books in the store, and at least two dozen of those are Letters to Penthouse.  Now some are innocent enough in terms of sex books, they’ll talk about making love and romance, spicing  up your marriage or relationship, trapping  women into having sex with you, that kind of thing.

see that? it won an award

The rest (by rest I mean the majority) will graphically describe and depict a number of sexual techniques in rousing titles such as Tickle His Pickle; the Hands On Guide to Penis Pleasing, and Ride Em Cowgirl; Sex Position Secrets for Better Bucking

Clever shit.

But I’m not getting lectures about these.

I’m not getting lectures from stay at home moms about selling Last Tango in Paris, and not simply selling it, but it’s marked down and for a month was on a display visible immediately upon entering the DVD department.

You know what’s sitting on the same display?  Lolita.  That was actually on a display for a while with a sign over the table that read, “Mother’s Day Gifts for Every Interest.”  Not one complaint about that.

These last two examples, of those movies’ placement on displays, I bring up because that’s what this mom was complaining about, or the particular issue she was wasting so much of my time with.  The book was offensive, she absolutely made that clear.  She thought it disgusting and vile, but it was our placement of the book on the Customer Service desk.

actual bookselling technique; this kid is going to love it

This customer complained that we were, “cramming this book down [her] children’s throats” by displaying them at the Customer Service desk.  She felt “assaulted” by our flaunting of this title.  Apparently our having a stack of these books on the desk is tantamount to us handing one to every child as they walk through the door, and then slapping their parents in the face with a second copy.

That’s what we’re doing, isn’t it?

What we’re doing couldn’t possibly be putting a stack of bestselling books that we sell a dozen copies a day of within easy reach?  This isn’t the evil bookstore promoting the degradation of our society for the sake of money.  I know you want to think it is.  I know you want to vilify the company.  But that’s not what’s going on.

This is laziness.  This is convenience.  I don’t feel like walking the two hundred feet round-trip that it would be to the humor section three times an hour. I’m not trying to promote the seed of Satan here, I’m just trying to save time.

gaaah! evil book!

This book brings evil a whole new level though, apparently, in that it has the power to suck in children who get to close to it. Anna didn’t want this book on counter, facing the kid’s department!  just feet from summer reading tables!  at perfect eye level with her children!

What monsters we are!  Evil, innocence stealing, bookselling monsters!

Just by looking at it, children have been known to disappear.  Beware!  This book is like the basilisk set loose from the Chamber of Secrets, except instead of petrifying mudbloods it steals children’s souls.

I have no other explanation than evil powers, since Anna was very upset with the fact that the book faced the summer reading books and kid’s department.  She asked that we display it instead facing the “other filthy books promoting child abuse.”

Unfortunately we haven’t received all the product for that display, so it hasn’t been set up yet.  I promise though Anna, as soon as it is I’ll move this book over.

..I’m not done with this yet…

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