Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In Which I Return (briefly) to My Dream Job

When I was fifteen, my dream job was to work at a department store and sell perfume. I have no idea what that was about. I don't even like perfume. Maybe I thought it sounded like easy work--lounging behind a glass counter, arranging bottles, spritzing people...

The jobs I ended up with were so far away from that perfumy vision, it's laughable. I chopped whole chickens in half at York Steakhouse. I scrubbed pizza pans at Papa Gino's Pizzeria. I flipped steaks at Ponderosa. I busted my butt waiting tables at TGI Fridays and Perkins (jobs I still have nightmares about). At the end of my shifts, let's just say, I did not smell like perfume.

When I was in grad school, a friend of mine suggested I apply for a job where he worked, a bookstore. This sounded like a cool gig. I knew how to work a cash register. I wouldn't have to wear a grease-spattered polyester uniform. I had what I thought was an extensive knowledge of books.

What I didn't have was much experience with bookstores, unless you count bopping into one of those Walden Books places at the mall every Christmas to pick out a yearly calendar. Up to that point, I was a total library fan girl.

But man oh man, the first time I stepped foot into the Davis Kidd Booksellers store in Memphis, I swooned. 100,000 + books. Bookcases upon bookcases. Tables piled high with stacks. And more books lining the walls. Comfy chairs. Cozy nooks. Pillows.

Oh! a book-loving, nerdy, poet-writing grad student could get lost for days in a place like that. I loved everything about working at Davis Kidd except for one rule: we were not allowed to read on the job. I confess that I did. Unpacking boxes of fresh new books and arranging them on the shelves, geez, how could you not stop to read the blurbs on the backs?  Or thumb through the pages. Or, um, read a couple of chapters?

My co-workers were the coolest people, fellow book lovers, many with advanced degrees or students like me (like I?) See, if I were still working there, I could ask any grammar question, and someone would know the answer. This was before the internet, before you could ask your phone any question in the world and get an almost instantaneous answer. No, children, before the internet, before smart phones, you had to just sit around and wonder what the answer was.

Or, you could call Davis Kidd Booksellers and a clerk would tell you.

I'm not lying. We got calls like that all the time.

We also hosted story times and author signings. We chatted with customers about the latest bestsellers, classics, and forgotten gems. People browsed around, listening to music and sipping coffee.

Bookstores, sadly, tragically, are struggling, and many are going out of business. It's hard to compete with the low prices and convenience of Amazon. And more and more people are downloading books on e-readers. I'm not knocking this practice. But I do so hope that we'll still have places for book-loving people to gather and browse.

This Saturday, Nov. 30, is Small Business Saturday. Author Sherman Alexie put out a call to fellow writers to support their local independent bookstores. Shop. Volunteer to work. Hand sell books. So, that is what I am going to do.

You can find me at my favorite bookstore in Columbus--Cover to Cover Bookstore.

Please come out and say hello. I promise I will not be reading on the job.

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