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).
  1. 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.
  2. Clementines in the break room.
    These were new to me. The store manager said, "Martha Stewart loves them."
  3. "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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Bringing out of date magazines from the racks to a manager's vacant office and being unable to resist flipping through a Penthouse.
    Gynecological.
  9. 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.