Linda Ramsdell

Arriving at work, I see the bag delivery sitting on the steps. Sometimes I forget the simplest things, and when the paper delivery company only comes by every two weeks, this can be a problem. Half a case of toilet paper remaining but ran out of 12-by-15 bags a week ago—not good.

Elliott comes in for his morning visit. He wasn’t in Friday, or yesterday, and I’d started to worry a little bit about him. Every year, he buys the “365 Stupidest Things Ever SaidTM” Page a Day Calendar, and he often brings a page that he finds riotous and we have a good laugh. So today he brings me Thursday’s and Monday’s. We usually talk about the weather, compare morning thermometer readings. On D-day we talked about where he spent the war, and in the afternoon he brought me down an armed services newspaper with his picture taken in front of the pyramids in Egypt. He’s been sick for four days, and short of breath this morning since he opened his garage door. I advise him to go to the diner for breakfast, get some strength back.

Sandy is busy filling an order for 30 $5 gift certificates, and I try to move some things around the store. I move a couple of shelves and make a gift-wrapping table to give us some more room as things start to get more hectic. I consider moving a bunch of stuff I’d like to get rid of to a more “impulse” oriented display, but I just can’t do it. The pleasure comes in selling the books, not in the money exchanged (OK, so that’s not entirely true), and I still want the overall impressions to be BOOKS. I want people to buy books. And sure, a calendar and some bookmarks and maybe some magnetic poetry or stickers, and they are here to find if people need or want them. Lee recently brought me a cartoon from The New Yorker. The clerk in a large bookstore is telling his customer, “The guy that knows about the books isn’t here today. I’d be more than happy to suggest a bookmark.”

The pace is picking up. Not the number of customers or the number of books they buy, but the hurry they are in. This leads to the natural extension of the gift-wrap challenge: wrapping for speed. “Oh, I better not, my son has a dentist appointment, but where did he go?” turns into, “Bet I can wrap these before you find him.” And this is not a big store.

What I don’t like about Christmas (and I mean Christmas, not “holiday”) retail is the way some people take on Christmas shopping as an odious chore. “Just four more to go and I’m done,” they might say, near both exhaustion and triumph. The word “done” just gets to me. “If you don’t enjoy it, why do it?” I want to say. And I get feeling very protective of the books this time of year; I want them going to good homes only, where they will be appreciated in some manner, if only for the thought that went into the giving. I get sad if I think someone is buying something just for the sake of handing over something called a present.

On the other hand, there is Mrs. Jones (her real name), my brother’s kindergarten teacher, coming in with her husband to get their granddaughter a book about bugs. Last year they got her an identification book. I take them to the shelf of kid’s bug books and suggest a few for them to choose from, pointing out a few features of each one. They think one might be too advanced, the other she might have, and the other might work out … I show them the shelf where they came from and leave them to make a thoughtful decision. I’m always trying to figure out when to help, when to step away, when to step in … and all the other grand mysteries of retail.

And now, for a new feature of my “Diary”: What I Sold and Why.

Bad Girl’s Guide to Getting What You Want  because it is hilarious and practical all at the same time. It made its debut on the Book Sense Best-Seller list this week, and my friend Cameron Tuttle wrote it. One man bought it for his girlfriend, yahoo. The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams, by Nasdijj, because I know the gift recipient appreciates sparkling and explosive language, and this book has it. The Mark of the Angel, because it’s on the “Linda’s Favorites” shelf, because I am enthralled by the story and especially the way it is told.

Click here to sample our paperback collection of “Diary” favorites, including entries by Beck, Karenna Gore Schiff, David Sedaris, and 67 other contributors.