MEMORIES OF BOOKSELLING
The start of the holiday shopping season is bringing back memories of when I worked at Barnes & Noble as a temporary seasonal employee when I was home on break from college ('96 and '97).
- •Fielding so many phone calls each shift.The Internet was still pretty much in its infancy and brick-and-mortar mega-stores like B&N weren't sweating online competition yet (maybe some smart folks higher up the corporate chain were?). The store got hundreds of calls each day from people asking if we had a particular book in stock. It was a very satisfying feeling to walk through the stacks, find a book, tag it with the caller's name and slot it into the hold shelf for them to pick up within three days.
- •Clementines in the break room.These were new to me. The store manager said, "Martha Stewart loves them."
- •"Do you have First Contact by Carl Sag-AHN?"So many questions like this one. Snobby, late adolescent me would "causally" respond, "Oh, Contact by Carl SAY-gan?" What a jerk.
- •When I recommended Song of Solomon.I was working at B&N when Oprah's book club was getting started. The first selection was Toni Morrison's S.o.S. A white lady customer told me she was looking for a book for her sister for Christmas. After a few questions, it became apparent that either she had no idea about her taste in books, or the sister didn't really read much. I suggested S.o.S. She whispered, "Isn't that about...blackness?" I silently led her over to the Gift Books section.
- •Coworkers would ask me, "What are you doing after graduation?"I told them I was applying to grad school in Anthropology. They said, "We'll plan to see you in a few years, then!" There were many grossly overqualified book sellers with advanced degrees.
- •Working alongside a former independent bookstore owner.B&N and Borders put him out of business. He led a very popular reading group at B&N.
- •Squirreling away books on the employee hold shelf to buy with my discount.I couldn't resist. Someone should do a Marxist analysis of employee discounts, worker/consumer behavior and labor alienation.
- •Bringing out of date magazines from the racks to a manager's vacant office and being unable to resist flipping through a Penthouse.Gynecological.
- •Dealing with improbable returns.Back then B&N had a very liberal return policy. If memory serves, you could get cash without a receipt. I remember one guy bringing in a stack of books, including a cloth-bound medical reference book with no dust jacket and INSISTING he bought it at the store. I looked up the ISBN and it wasn't in the system. I said something like, "Hmmm...it must just be from a different book store?" When I was thinking, "Take your lies somewhere else, LIAR!" We took the rest of the books.