Friday 22 January 2010

The Sarazens head without New-gate: other book-sellers scare me

Yes, I should be working. Want to know why I'm not? Well, there are several reasons but the primary one is that the furnace in the store is broken again and I'm freezing half to death. I am drinking hot tea and trying to keep my fingers from turning blue by typing...a shiny new blog post just for you!

Today I'm going to discuss my most central, deep in the belly, irrational fear associated with being a book-seller: talking to other book-sellers. As you know from previous posts of The Sarazens head, there is sometimes good cause to fear the customers. Also, today, there is good reason to fear the physical space the shop inhabits, *she typed with shivery hands and chattering teeth*.

But other book-sellers. Every time I talk to one, I become certain that it must surely be only a matter of weeks or months before not only has my bookstore gone bankrupt, but I am also reduced to begging for change on the windy and heartless corner of Yonge and Bloor.

When book-sellers get together they, of course, discuss the trade and I'm often confronted with how differently my compatriots and I do things in the losing but glorious battle. I've been questioned, with great concern, for my general refusal to stock up on piles of remaindered popular books; I've been looked at askance for taking in any books from the public; I've been laughed at for selling online the same books I house in the bricks and mortar storefront. Selling mass market fiction, especially romances, is particularly poo-pooed and apparently a sure sign that I am not even close to being a serious book-seller.

I don't think it's a bad thing that I can afford to sell stuff I like by also selling stuff I mock in my black, black heart; after all, a shop stocking only books I like would be very small, relatively speaking. It would be ridiculously narrowly focused, as there would be no sections at all for things like Science, Nature, Poetry, textbooks, or, say, the perpetually popular New Age section. Nonetheless, in the face of hearing about what other, apparently successful, shop owners do that I don't do, I feel like giving myself a good whipping and whimpering, "I'm not worthy! Mea culpa!"

In the day-to-day, I don't feel as plagued by doubts as a puberty-stricken 14-year old with braces, bad skin, and pants that sit much too high on the waist; I feel generally fine in the day-to-day.

Indeed, one thing I feel entirely confident about: selling online is a good and necessary thing. Several months ago, hubby and I took a road trip to Peterborough, where he did his undergraduate degree. Water Street boasts, I think, five bookstores in a row, which to me constitutes bookish heaven. In one, I asked the proprietor if he sold his books online and he vehemently, nay angrily, insisted he did not and never would because it was a sham and the people online clearly didn't know what books were worth, given how different his prices were from theirs. The fact is, the advent and great success of online book-selling has changed what books are worth. Now, book-sellers can get a much more fine-tuned sense of what's out there and thus price accordingly.

I personally am quite resistant to moving away from physical books but I don't think all technological advances are bad for the book trade. One of the things I love about how easy it is to search and buy books online is that you can get a book you might have spent your whole life looking for and never finding.

But wait, I'm supposed to be focusing on what a quivering mass of insecurities I am, not getting excited about how damned cool the online book-selling world is. Ahem.

Oh never, mind. I do cringe and pray for mercy when book-sellers come in and we chat but I'm loving life, even in the bowels of hungry, desperate January.

Nowhere near Las Vegas
And besides making available books one might never otherwise find, by selling online I'm exposed to all kinds of (to me) very cool minutiae re: place and street names. When I was a kid, I used to thumb my way through maps and atlases just looking for the coolest and weirdest names of places, an obsession that may have died but was revived when I was 14; forced onto a west-coast road trip, I woke up out of a bored backseat nap to find we were driving through a place in British Columbia called Spuzzum, I shit you not.

Since I've been in business, the coolest, beyond cool, thing I've seen is this: Someone, somewhere in the US (state forgotten), lives on ELECTRIC AVENUE. It must be so rockin' to live on Electric Avenue. Also, did you know, there's a town in Mississippi called, simply, University? How about Mechanicsville, VA? How about Hester's Crossing in Round Rock, TX? I REALLY want Hester's Crossing to be linked to The Scarlet Letter. Unlikely, but possible; in Kingston, there's a whole little subdivision with streets named only after kick-ass authors like Dickens.

Why I'm ultimately cool with how this shop does its own thing
I just had two exchanges with customers, while writing up this post, that reminded me of why I'm good with having a gigantic variety of books here - the variety of books out there really does reflect the variety of tastes readers have.

One guy came in and asked me about 19th century lit; he got terribly excited when I told him about my newborn love affair with Anthony Trollope because he proclaimed Trollope to be the best writer in English, ever! He talked about Trollope affecting Tolstoy (apparently, The Prime Minister clearly influenced Anna Karenina). He left, incredibly pleased to have found someone who really likes Trollope.

Not long after he left, another fella came in looking for some classics. He lamented having pretty much exhausted his favourite period, also 19th-century English; yet, when I asked him about Trollope he said, he'd tried but found him too inferior to Hardy and Eliot to bear!

I may have convinced them both to give Zola a try, based on the fact that I'm currently reading Zola and talk like I know something. This is ironic because I'm finding La BĂȘte Humaine to be a strange one, by turns brilliant and scattered. But more of that anon. For now, back to the, I mean working.


raych said...

We like to joke, in the old B of C, that the 'Welcome to Spuzzum' and 'Thanks for visiting Spuzzum, come back soon' signs are on reverse sides of the same signboard. Spuzzum is, like, a block long.

Bookphilia said...

Raych: Yeah, I almost missed the "come back soon sign" because I was looking at the "welcome" sign and being incredulous.

Heidenkind said...

You have the coolest job ever.

That is all.