I’m so behind. My bookshelf has gotten out of hand over the last few months… several months.. ok, two years. Maybe three.
Night Passage, the first of Robert Parker’s ‘Jesse Stone’ books is among the oldest there (and since the Tom Selleck made-for-TV movies have gotten to the point Selleck is co-writing original stories, I need to knock this one off the list), as well as Geoffrey Girard’s Project Cain/Cain’s Blood. ( I have the two-in-one paperback advanced reader from my Barnes & Noble days, try not to be jealous) Those are the ones hanging on since 2013. Yeah, I know, that’s ridiculous, but these things just kind of pile up, it’s nobody’s fault. Or it’s Netflix’s. I did have ten seasons of Supernatural to catch up on, after all.
But, before I get rid of the offending titles of ol’ aught thirteen, I need to finish reading Jesse Ball’s Silence Once Begun. While there are always those authors whose list of titles grows without finding the time to step into their world (David Mitchell is at the top of the list victims of my best literary intentions), it’s equally important to stay on top of authors one has already started reading.
With the exception of James Patterson, who releases a new book every two weeks, this should be pretty easy to do. And yet… I’m two novels and a novella behind on Jesse Ball.
I bought and started reading Silence Once Begun immediately upon its release but was distracted by Hugh Howey and Netflix and a miserable, unending Buffalo winter. His next novel was released this past July, but I was a little preoccupied with being fired and forgot about buying A Cure for Suicide entirely.
It wasn’t until a week or so ago that someone on Goodreads added his new novella, “The Lesson“, to their ‘Want to Read’ list that I realized how behind I had become.
I’m making progress however, I’ve finished off five books in the last month, two of which I’d been picked away at for several months. At this rate, there’s a good chance Silence, Jesse Stone, and Cain could all be knocked off my nightstand within a week or two….
It happens throughout the year, but it’s during the holidays when this particular customer has the power to reach right into your chest and rip out your heart, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom style. Like Mola Ram, this heartbreaking customer lies in plain sight, manipulating you and all those around them to their evil ends.
Or… in order to purchase Christmas presents. Ok, it may not be quite so sinister as enslaving children and stealing sacred stones towards the ultimate goal of world domination in the name of the great Kali, but it’s pretty up there.
The set-up is that you never see them coming. They usually don’t show up wearing a necklace of teeth or a ram’s skull with a shrunken head mounted on it. Fashion scarves and sensible outerwear, is what this lot typically appears wearing. They seem so sweet, so trustworthy; they could be your mother, your favorite aunt. Don’t let this fool you! They are no less dangerous than Thuggee high priest high on chilled monkey brain and snake surprise.
“I’m looking for this book for my son,” she asked, “I’ve looked on all the tables but can’t seem to find it. It’s called the Boys in the Boat.”
“Oh yeah, we should definitely have that,” I say, and type it in to the computer to pull up where in the store we put it. “I remember when that came out, I think it was one of the Buffalo News’ picks, everyone was looking for it.”
Small talk. I’m not particularly good at small talk, but I try. Usually I lose interest in what I’m saying and just kind of trail off. In most cases, it’s just to stall until our Pentium 4 IBMs can process the search and tell me that the book I’m looking for is, in fact, only six feet away. In my defense, we sold out of the stack of them on the table, so I couldn’t physically see the book from where I was standing. It was only on the floor underneath the table. Shut up.
I took her over, and put the book in her hand as we do, and prepared to have praise showered upon me before returning to the information desk where the next customer will undoubtedly crush out the desperate, smoldering attempt at holiday cheer I feel by yelling at me that we are “raping our customers” because our online prices are lower than those in-store.
But that is not to be, not yet.
“You don’t happen to have this in hardcover, do you? He really prefers that,” she says.
You can’t win.
Da Vinci Code, anything even remotely Harry Potter, or pretty much anything you’ve seen on the bestsellers’ list. These books can spend years in hardcover and all you hear is, “Do you have this in paperback? Why isn’t this in paperback? When is this coming out in paperback? Amazon has this in paperback, you know, I’ll just buy it there.”
Customers will ask for James Patterson’s newest release in paperback. That book came out three weeks ago: spoilers, it’s not in paperback. Not for a year. At least. And Amazon doesn’t have it in paperback, they have the option to preorder it in paperback. When it comes out. In six months.
It never fails though. As soon as it hits paperback and all the hardcovers have been returned because, well, who would want them anymore, that’s when suddenly everyone needs the hardcover. Hey, but sometimes we have one.
“I had one the other day, let me look it up again and see if we still have it.”
I check. One. One book on hand. Usually, this means we’re never going to see it, that we’re never going to find it. It’s difficult enough any other time of year, but Christmas? Yeah, it goes something like this:
you’re going to check the shelf, check the cart, check the other cart, check the sorting table, check the computer for when it came in, check the table again, look at pile of boxes still unopened and wonder, give up, check three other carts just because, look on the return shelf, check the computer again to make sure it wasn’t on hold, hope the hold didn’t expire in the computer but that the book was still physically on the holds shelf, check the shelf again, check the computer again to see when it came in, feel your heart sink when you realize it was six months ago, check the cart, check the shelf and find it.
You found it. You found it one bookshelf over and three shelves down from where it was supposed to be, and in no way alphabetical by author. But it’s there. It’s there!
I hand it over to her, and she’s as excited as I am. The store is incredibly busy, and she saw you running trying to find that single copy for her. Against the odds, you found it and its still looks perfect. It’s a little Christmas miracle.
Until three hours later you find it on the “What Teens are Reading” table under a copy of Hollow City, and your heart breaks a little. This happens all year long, you should be used to it. But it’s always more difficult during the holidays. While you’re searching for these books, dodging customers and digging through carts and shelves to find what they’ve whined about and guilted you to find, while you’re searching for this perfect gift, this present, they absolutely have to have or Christmas is ruined forever, you really think you’re making a difference.
That moment of excitement, of victory, you feel when you find that book—spot it out the corner of your eye on a completely wrong shelf, entirely by chance—is supposed to be exactly what someone is going to feel when they open this gift on Christmas. It’s a little Christmas present from Jesus and Santa and the bookselling gods, all for you.
So it hurts. It hurts when, for whatever reason (and one completely out of your control) you find that book discarded hours later. That was your connection to someone, your contribution to making someone’s holiday just a little bit more special. This time of year, it will crush your holiday spirit, and every time it will break your heart, just a little.
Some of these heartbreakers you can spot. You’ll start to predict when you’ll find that book later that night; their hesitation taking it from your hand, their instantly asking the price, them immediately slapping you in the face with it. (At which point, according to the code of bookseller conduct, you must challenge them to a dual at sunrise the next Tuesday before the new releases are put on sale.) Some take you by surprise. But if you want to work in a bookstore for Christmas, you won’t let it stop you. You can’t. You have to keep going, keep smiling, keep searching and checking and double checking for whatever crazy thing they may be asking for. One in ten might break your heart, but the rest? Well, actually, the rest will break your heart too.
It should still break, but for a different reason. Instead, it should break a little each time because the rest of those people, each and every one of those customers, now have that perfect gift they were looking for. On Christmas morning, they’ll get to see someone’s face light up as they open it. It might be the first book in a series a kid was hoping for, it could be a memoir by someone’s favorite musician, it might be a party game they want to open immediately and start playing.
That’s why you go home every day exhausted and sore and with your feet soaking in sweat and reeking in a way you never imagined possible. Seriously, it feels like you’re walking on sponges—that’s not normal. But it’s ok. It’s ok. As long as you remember that every person who walks through those doors isn’t just asking for your help, they are inviting you to be a part of their holiday experience. You’re not a computer screen promising free shipping if they spend a little more money. You’re the person who saw in their face just how much they wanted this game or movie or terrible teen series about steampunk assassins fighting supernatural in a prep school on the site of a former psych hospital, and you checked every shelf, every cart and shoved that old lady out of your way to get that perfect item for them.
They can’t do it without you. Literally. They can’t. These people will wander around the store in a daze until you ask them what they’re looking for. If it wasn’t for you they’d still be there at four in the morning wandering in slow motion down the middle of the aisle and stopping randomly for no reason at all.
Instead, because of you, they’re able to make someone’s Christmas. So be ready for the heartbreaker who will hide the book you found for them under that giant pile of Sons of Anarchy Collector’s Edition—no, I’m just kidding. We don’t have that, no one does, that’s on backorder until Valentine’s.
Be ready for them, those spirit-crushers who don’t realize finding that book for them was the sad high point of your day. But be ready for the other heartbreakers, too. The ones who take the books you found for them and give them a special place under their tree, who get excited to watch it get opened, who have given it a place in the life of someone they care about. You are going to save Christmas. You are going to change someone’s life.
So stay strong, don’t forget to smile, always double check the shelf, and for God’s sake man, change your socks.
the Second of Four Gibberings on Originality
And what’s really wrong with selling out? With proclaiming “Unputdownable” Patterson as your god and mapping out your own beach read mystery series with a spunky female lead and loveable animal sidekick?
Good literature doesn’t sell. Most of it will sit on the shelf until maybe the spine catches someone’s eye. Unless you’re on a talk show or a big name already, you’re probably not going to get noticed. Then you’ll get returned and recycled into the next Alex Cross Christmas giveaway novella.
On the other hand, if you write some bondage filled Twilight fan fiction you’re set for life.
People seem to have learned their lesson somewhat between Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey. With Twilight all you heard was women and teenaged girls squealing about how it was the greatest book every written, oh my god! the story is so good, and it’s so well written—you have to read it! By the time 50 Shades of Grey those squealing voices proclaiming the next Nobel Prize for Fiction have quieted a bit. Everyone admits the writing is shit, but there’s sex in it and a rich guy telling you what to do. Might as well win a Pulitzer.
Name one of the finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.
Name Bella Swan’s hometown.
Now go fuck yourself.
Clearly originality is overrated. Can you still be creative working with someone else’s idea, taking their work and using it as a foundation for your own? Inspiration from the already inspired. New writers are brought in on TV shows and movies, and no one cries foul on their reworking of someone else’s idea.
There are anthologies out there of short stories inspired by songs and whatever else. Why is that acceptable? Stories inspired by works of art are fine, but not stories inspired by other stories. Movies inspired by other movies. Why not borrow from them, they’ve already borrowed from somewhere else.
Copies of copies of copies of copies. Merging,copying, adapting, constantly rewriting what we don’t like.
Isn’t that what the human race is anyway? If art imitates life then it makes sense that we should constantly be borrowing and adapting, remaking, rebooting.
Covers of songs are acceptable. Remixes two weeks after the original is released is completely run of the mill now. Completely normal there, but announce the Amazing Spiderman, and suddenly everyone’s saying, “Whoa whoa whoa, too soon!”
Two homes can have the same foundation, the same exterior walls, the same shape. But the interiors can be completely different, with different rooms of different sizes, individual layouts and distinctive decors.
From the outside they may appear to be the same house, but take the time to walk through them and each will show you another world.
Or maybe the only difference is where they put the shitter.
Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere centers around an ordinary guy in London getting drawn into this mysterious world below the city. He has to travel into this London Below to save a woman. Grand fantastical adventures and such ensue. Heard that before. Not very original. Sounds like a hero’s quest into Hades. How many myths reused that idea, the quest into the underworld?
Anyone ever see the first Troll movie? Probably not. The sequel to it is considered one of the worst movies of all time, but the first one, staring that kid from the Neverending Story, centers around the Potter family moving to a new apartment in San Francisco. The original ADA from Law & Order is in it too, he plays the senior to Noah Hathaway’s Junior Potter—and their first name? Harry.
Yeah, one of the worst film series of all time has ties to one of the most successful film series of all time, the main characters’ names are Harry Potter.
Way to go J.K. Rowling. Real original.
And while we’re on the subject of Troll, there’s a remake planned for a 2012 release with the same director as the original and a budget of $65 million.
So while roughly 12 million people are unemployed in this country, the worst film series of all time gets to give it another shot with a budget over sixty-five times the original. The best of the series, the first one, which a handful of people have actually reported sitting through in its entirety, only made $5 million.
That seems about right.
The director and producer of that original 9th place opening weekend box office juggernaut try to stir some shit every once in a while by claiming Rowling ripped their film off, not only with the name of her character but several other details or scenes.
What other elements did she steal from you? Magic? I don’t think that one’s yours.
Of course she denies that their piece of crap in any influenced her, and how would it? When would she have time to watch some shit American movie that barely ranks above Manos: the Hands of Fate? Plotting one’s conquest of the entire planet can be time consuming.
If anything, they should both be thanking her, because without the near god-like status Harry Potter has achieved, they wouldn’t be remaking anything.
Have I mentioned Sonny Bono is in Troll? He gets turned into a tree penis. Or something. It’s been a while since I tried to watch it.