Thursday, May 14, 2009

come the revolution, all bookshops will be run by writers...

I am a bookseller.

But I'm not primarily a bookseller. My highest calling is that of Creative Genius but unfortunately the world hasn't yet realised this and so, I am forced to supplement my meager living by selling books. It's not so bad. Quite sexy in fact at times, when the new stock comes in and there are all those luscious taped up boxes full of unsullied books wanting nothing more than to give up their retail virginity to me. To me! Ooh, it feels so GOOD! Suck it and see for yourselves, all you green eyed book monsters out there. A writer who is also a bookseller. Maybe there is a god after all.

Still, satiating as it can often be, being a bookseller is not an afternoon at the beauty spa. Selling books is hard work. It is at least as hard as writing them - this I know because I have done both - and it is most certainly much harder than reading them. Well, most of them anyhow. I'm sure we all have a difficult book in our past, the reading of which was the frustrational equivalent of having your eyes sandpapered out of their sockets by an angry soccer hooligan. But that is food for another blog...

Now, to the specific aspects of the general difficulty of selling books.

1) Physically, the most difficult thing is that BOOKS ARE HEAVY. Carrying one lonely book from the kitchen to the front veranda to sit in the morning sun and sip a fresh made coffee is no great imposition, it's true. But now I want you to close your eyes and imagine carrying ten or fifteen of the suckers from the back of the shop to the front and then carrying the ten or fifteen that were at the front down to the back for no apparent reason except to participate in the mysterious ritual of 'rotating the stock'. When I first heard of 'rotating the stock', I tried cheating by just picking up a few books at a time and turning a quick circle. But it didn't seem to help sales at all so I stopped doing that - I felt it may have made me look a little bit silly.

2) Emotionally, the most difficult thing of all for a Creative Genius like myself is DEALING WITH THE PUBLIC. The Public, in case you didn't know, is a seething mass of crazy idiosyncrasy*. They want the impossible yesterday. When you offer to order it for them by tomorrow, they huff and they puff and they finally grudgingly agree to wait the extra day for whatever impossible thing it is that they can't live without. So you run around like a cat with a dead rat strapped to its tail and procure the preferred impossibility for them. You dutifully, smugly even, have the impossible sitting there waiting for them to pick up and while they're about it, give your ego a quick but hearty touch up. You know, say something like, "Holy shit! How the HELL did you ever manage to get this impossible thing for me so swiftly? Who are you really? SuperBookGirl? You're astonishing! You're fantastic! God, let me slip you an extra tenner just for being so damn clever" and other suchlike things.

Now keep in mind, this is only what I think should happen, what I am expecting to happen, what God has decreed should happen to all diligent book sellers who go beyond the call of duty for a customer who desires the impossible.

What actually happens is that they don't even bother to pick it up at all.

After a week, you put it back on the shelf sadly. Another week later and you feel glad when someone else buys the impossibility - it hurts too much to see it there, a reminder of your magic making gone unappreciated. Another week later again and the original customer comes back and wants to know where their impossible to find book is. When you tell them that you sent it home with someone who actually wanted it enough to give you money for it, they call you names and walk out, vowing never to return. It's cruel and unusual and I don't know how I go on sometimes.

3) Finally, spiritually, the most difficult aspect of selling books, the roughest, the most soul destroying, is that you somehow have to stop yourself from standing around all day reading the stock. Or not.

Seriously, it's a burden.

* Why don't we just cut out the middle man and spell idiosyncrasy with a z? Idiosyncrazy. That says it all.


  1. Look what I stumbled upon!
    Christine, I would be your SuperBookGirl any day haha!
    Very humorous indeed! When I am in Townsville next I will come to the incidental bookshop and smother it with my love and money, both of which I haven't much of, but I will say hello and have conversation: P

  2. Woah, this is awesome.

    If only there were some strategically placed google ads around the side that i could click on.

    This is really great. I think you should keep it up.

  3. I think I may have already told you this, but I used to shop in a bookstore in Brisbane - Greenslopes, in fact - where, whenever you'd take a book up to the counter, that Incidental Bookseller used to say "No, I can't let you have that. I haven't read it yet."

  4. thats very funny Denise! It sounds just like Gill. Thanks for reading.