So, last week, I left my part-time job at Barnes & Noble Booksellers to take a full-time job at a university library. Yes, I do in fact spend too much time with books.
A job at Barnes & Noble can seriously change your perspective on books. I realized this as I began to make the transition from bookseller back to customer. Even as a librarian, I know my role will be different than what it once was, and I feel the need to talk about some of those all-so-important and wonderful things I learned while selling books at a brick-and-mortar establishment.
Book People are the Best People
Seriously. I am completely convinced that there is something about people who read and love books that makes them super special, amazing, and wonderful. Having a conversation with someone who loves to read is so easy, and Barnes & Noble is full of those people. They come in to find people who love books so they can talk about the books you love and the ones they love, and it’s absolutely fabulous.
Of course, you also get people who are not book people (i.e. The Summer Required Reading Reader, The I Need Something to Take to the Airport Book Buyer, and the Where are Your Movies DVD Browser). And, quite frankly, they usually stand out. I’m not saying they’re terrible people, by any means. They are just different than book people—particularly because they do not actually like to talk about books.
Such a shame.
Anyway, one of my favorite lessons I learned while working at Barnes & Noble is that book people are the greatest.
Selling Books is Selling Products…
…but that can be okay. Honestly, it was always hard for me to think about selling things. I never really wanted to entrust my favorite books to complete strangers just to make a sale. I felt like I was betraying my favorite authors and their wonderful characters by giving them away for a couple bucks. But, really, selling books is not an awful way to spend your time.
First of all, refer to the first lesson I learned. By and large, the majority of the people I interacted with at my job were trustworthy of taking home my precious favorite titles, and they would most likely love and treasure them an acceptable amount (because, let’s face it, there’s no way they would ever love them as much as me!).
Second of all, the books I love and loved to sell can stand on their own. If the person who purchases them doesn’t end up enjoying them, who cares, really? The words have reached another imagination, and so the characters are still immortalized.
On top of that, selling books to those people who came in was my way of sustaining a real-life bookstore, complete with a door on the front, seats inside, and books you can pick up and page through before you buy them. While ordering online is ever so convenient, it will never be the same as walking in to an actual building to buy your next read. Being a part of the effort that keeps this type of book shopping an option makes me feel like I’m making a better difference for the future. And that is pretty cool.
Booksellers are Great Book Recommend-ers…
By the time I finished my stint at B&N, I had read several books recommended to me by my coworkers. Crazy thing? Even if we have entirely different taste in genre, they have great taste in books!
Okay, so maybe that isn’t so much of a shocker.
But really, I had never considered what a wealth of suggestions booksellers might be! It should have been obvious, because not only do these people want a job at a bookstore, they also have managed to keep said bookstore in business. I ended up loving to ask others what they were reading and take those recommendations to read myself. One of my favorite parts about their different tastes, too, was that dipping my toes into other genres wasn’t so difficult anymore. If I wanted to try something in science fiction, I could ask for some ideas. And I was more likely to actually appreciate and enjoy what was given to me. In the end, I ended up with a greater genre palette than I began with. And, of course, I got to share my favorite books and genres with my coworkers, too!
And now, I know that when I’m in Barnes & Noble in the future looking for something to read, I should ask the booksellers.
…And So Are Customers!
Again, this one probably should have been obvious, but I was still always delightfully surprised when a customer held up a title I had never heard of and said, “Have you read this one? No!? Oh, you have to read it! It is so good. I couldn’t put it down.” Being able to swap favorite titles with pretty much everyone who came to the store was amazing. My to-be-read list is absolutely gigantic!
Which leads me to my next lesson learned:
You Don’t Need to Buy Every Book, Ever
Let’s face, it; my bookshelves are already overflowing with new titles, editions, and copies.
The employee discount is fantastic, particularly at Barnes & Noble. As a fan of used bookstores for the prices, I was always delighted to get a brand new book for the price of an old one. But I learned, a little too late, that I had to pace myself. I don’t think there were many days I left without buying at least one book, and now I have to try and catch up with reading them!
Ultimately, I learned to only pick the titles I most desperately wanted. Usually, this meant waiting a week or so to purchase, thus maneuvering around the “Impulse Buy.” I also tried to limit purchases of recommendations, rather buying the books I would have picked out for myself. This helped cut down on what I was buying while also affirming what I enjoyed reading. Again, I still have a ton of books that are going to keep me busy for several months, if not years. But I certainly don’t now own every book, ever, or even every book someone told me I should buy.
There is a Different Between Readers and Bibliophiles, but Both are Book People
Working at Barnes & Noble, I think this was my favorite lesson that I learned. You see, as much as I LOVE to read, I don’t always want to read. Moreover, even though I sometimes want to OWN a book, I don’t necessarily want to READ that book at any point in the near future. Plus, reading can be extremely hard for me. I am a very slow reader, and it takes me a ridiculous amount of time to get through anything. Overall, I’m a bad reader.
But I love books! I love looking at books, shopping for books, buying books, shelving books, borrowing books, ordering books online… Most of my paychecks almost always go to books, even as I only slowly get through reading them.
For a long time, I felt very guilty about this. How could someone who loved books so much not fit the reader model?! It didn’t make sense. And then I started at Barnes & Noble, where I was introduced to the other side of bookselling, and it changed my perspective in so many ways. Because, for the first time in my life, I met people who were readers, and I met people who were bibliophiles, and they were almost never the same person.
Here is my moment of identification: I am a bibliophile. Here me roar!
In my role as a bookseller, I learned to love myself in relation to my books. I was able to more fully accept that my TBR would always grow faster than my READ. I could eagerly purchase new and unique copies of the same book over and over. And I could look at readers with respect rather than jealousy. If they are able to fly through several hundred books a year, and yet they dump them for donations in the end, I can admit that I am nothing like them. And we are both okay.
Working at Barnes & Noble was an intense experience, one that I would not trade for the world. It taught me a lot about myself, and books. Even as I move to the next chapter, I’m happy to keep this collection of stories on my shelf.
Where is human nature so weak as in a bookstore?
–Henry Ward Beecher