The Meaning of Bookselling

“There comes a time when you realize that everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real.”

-James Salter’s epigraph for All That Is

I recently waited on a customer who insisted James Salter was dead, in spite of the release of his first work of fiction in almost 40 years.  After a moment or two, I realized there was no advantage to be made in attempting to dislodge this notion. I simply handed him a copy of All That Is.  This man wanted to read the latest novel of an author who writes on the quotidian with graceful savagery; was not an individual who- as happened in the case of one of my fellow booksellers- asks for a copy of “Lionel Ritchie’s Wardrobe” instead of C.S. Lewis’ classic.  No, there must be a certain grace applied to furnishing the intellectual and imaginative needs of others.

Several years ago, an acquaintance introduced me to a group of her friends as a”…service worker.”  “I’m actually a bookseller.”, I replied.  My acquaintance (now former acquaintance) looked at me as if to say, “Really? You felt a need to elaborate?”

I didn’t have the time to explain the difference. So, finally, here it is.

No, I’m not a librarian.  I didn’t spend long years obtaining a degree in the sciences.  I apply the years of life learning and  my insatiable curiosity to the task of connecting others to their needs for facts and/or fantasy. I imagine myself on a par with librarians, cybrarians and other defenders of the word in that I feed the process for free thought and free speech.  I work with others who are tireless in their attempts to make connections with our community through their love of the word. If that job description is romantic only eighty percent of the time, then one-fifth of my work life is spent serving an ideal intregal to the functions of  democracy.  Not too shabby.

Yes, I do sell the commodity of the mind, unlike the librarians of the world.  My best and most satisfying work moments are those in which I find the perfect fit for a reader’s needs and wants, and, as every bookseller knows, the hours of physical labor are performed in support of those moments.

No, I don’t posess Salter’s ability for the beautiful turn of word in character constructions that can, in the hands of  a lesser writer, seem tedious.  I know something of who I am, and I want you to share this knowledge: there are worlds of mind undiscovered, and the quotidian must serve discovery.  Otherwise, labor is just labor.

Every true bookseller out there knows what I’m talking about.

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