As much as I don’t like certain aspects of operating a retail business, there are aspects of operating a bookstore that are redeeming and make it different than just any retail business. For one thing, my customers lend me books. What haberdasher do you know who has customers that say, “I found this really great tie. You have to wear it. Keep it for as long as you like; I’ve already worn it.” Or imagine: You buy a really great new car, and you go back to the salesperson. “I really like this car. I want you to drive it. Take it and go for a few trips.” My favorite example is Helen, a book enthusiast in her 70s, if I had to guess. When she found that we shared an interest in the Southwest, she brought me in her copy of Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey. She’d bought the book from me the month before. This week, John brought me James McManus’ Going to the Sun because he knows I enjoy bicycling.
Today, Natalie Kinsey-Warnock brings me a Christmas present, a book and a jar of raspberry jam she made this summer. I spend my days surrounded by books, paying for books, buying books, selling books, and in my own time doing a sort of triage, determining which of the vast number of books I wish to read that I will be able to read. Yet this gift from Natalie makes me so excited. I leave the book wrapped to take home, wanting to appreciate it entirely on Christmas Day when I will have the time to do so. Every year, she finds a book I am unaware of, and I count on this among the pleasures of Christmas. In the physical realm, I already have everything I want for Christmas—a winter wonderland to ski in and, in addition to Natalie’s gift, a book I have saved for this time. The thought of coming in from a ski and sitting by the fire with Prodigal Summer is something I am looking forward to as much as children look forward to Santa Claus.
Back at The Galaxy Bookshop, more books arrive, but other books don’t. Although people are almost without exception entirely forgiving if their books don’t arrive, I dread calling them, put it off, but only because of my own disappointment. I take to heart this mission of getting books, most of the time forgetting that these books may be a small part of someone’s Christmas, or that little phrase that office managers keep pinned by their desk, “Your lack of planning does not constitute my crisis.” In the morning, Neil comes in to check on his books, which I had checked on yesterday. I tell him I expect them today, but I’m just not sure, I am hopeful, etc., etc., and I must sound a bit tortured because he says, “Nobody is going to die from it if they don’t come,” which serves as a good reminder.
I am not so much heeding Ram Dass’ Be Here Now as I am looking forward to the time after the UPS truck comes tomorrow. No more breathless orders placed, no more getting lost in publishers’ call routing systems, no more calculating odds or begging some publisher to get the book on its way immediately, please. We will try to make everyone happy with what we have, and there is still a great deal to choose from here. “No, I’m sorry, we don’t have Chicken Soup for the Chainsaw Lover’s Soul, but may I suggest Tall Trees, Tough Men or perhaps the Logger Calendar?” I watch for rising panic to ebb and give way to satisfaction.
What I Sold and Why:
The Complete Tightwad Gazette, but not Invitation to the Whitehouse, because this is Vermont. Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse by David Budbill, because look how much one slim book can give you to think about and feel. Ten times Garrison Keillor has read poems from this book on The Writer’s Almanac. Girls Who Rocked the World, because they do. Tractor-Trailer Trucker, because the photographs of trucks are great, and the trucker is from Hardwick. In the Fall, by Jeffrey Lent. If I had to choose, I would say this is my favorite book of the year, both for the language and the story. In my family of books it lives with those by Cormac McCarthy and E. Annie Proulx.
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