Corporate Human Resources (HR) departments across the U.S. are (by in large) staffed with well-meaning professionals trying to make sure their workplaces are fair and rewarding. They are also producers of an ever-changing and never-ending stream of lies.
I know this first-hand. For more than a decade, I was the one crafting these distortions, evasions and deflections for a number of companies.
Last Saturday, was National Independent Bookstore Day across the country. At Booksellers, we had events and exclusive giveaways for our customers throughout the day. One such event, was a new “book thing”–Grawl!x, a book talk, a discussion, a presentation, a convocation–I’d conceived to provide book lovers a sneak peek and the low-down on a hand-picked selection of upcoming and recent off-beat literary fiction. Despite Mother Nature being overly-compliant, offering up the kind of Memphis May day that Keats would have written odes on, many of our customers came out during the day to show their support, with two handfuls coming specifically for the “book thing”.
The feedback I’ve gotten from those who came to Grawl!x has been terrific. The group was not a large one, but they were engaged, open for discussion and interested in extending the group to start a monthly book club. We decided on the premise of the “In Case You Missed It” Book Club*, where we’ll read and meet to discuss books we’ve long been told we should read, but haven’t yet. I’ve never been in a book club. I’ve never found one that read the types of things I was interested in. I’m looking forward to this.
*Find ICYMI Book Club details at the bottom
Grawl!x was everything I hoped it would be: a coming together of passionate readers looking for and wanting to talk about the kinds of books I love.
It’s perhaps harsh to name “untruths” as HR departments’ chief export. Having worked closely with a variety of HR departments and advised them on the best way (i.e., most effective for producing desired outcomes) to communicate various policies, initiatives, changes, etc., I’d contend that my assertion, while bracing, is true. I never worked or consulted for a company that cared more about its employees (or customers, or workplace, or reputation, or products, etc.) than its profit. All every message related to employees-”we care about our employees”, “we value teamwork”, “we encourage ingenuity and entrepreneurship”, etc.–was freighted with the silent addendum “to the extent it aids in the maximization of profit.”
This is neither an indictment nor a complaint. It’s like the frog and the scorpion. You can’t sensibly blame the scorpion for being a scorpion.
While National Independent Bookstore Day was designed to celebrate and draw attention to the value an independent bookstore brings to a community, for me, it drove home the joy and fulfillment that working for an independent bookstore provides.
I love being a bookseller. I find it more rewarding in every possible way (except financially…our wages are equal parts legal U.S. tender and magic beans) than any other job I’ve had. My time working for an independent bookstore has brought into sharp relief the great pains and expense large companies go to to mollify their employees with comforting and inspiring verbal palliatives.
Most companies tell their employees that they value teamwork and creativity. That they encourage the entrepreneurial spirit. That customers come first. In my experience, these are not strictly untrue. They are ideals (usually unrealized ideals, as employees at these companies would often voice).
Working for an independent bookstore, however, I’m experiencing these ideals in practice. The composition and content for the Grawl!x “book thing” and the ICYMI book club were 100% me. I wanted to try it because, from my conversations with many Booksellers customers, I thought that it would be something a certain subset would enjoy and appreciate. The store not only allowed it, they gave me the full support of the marketing team and the time to do it. Anything I needed to make this happen, they (and the terrific publisher representatives, like Kate McCune from HarperCollins, Melissa Weisberg at Macmillan and Johanna Hynes at Perseus Books Group who keep me well-stocked in terrific books) provided. Some of my fellow booksellers came in on their day off to be part of it. Bookseller patrons who attended seemed to enjoy it. I’m fairly sure I enjoyed it more.
After more than a decade of helping numerous organizations tell their employees how much they’re valued and appreciated for their initiative, creativity and teamwork, it’s an entirely different experience to work somewhere where those ideals are day-to-day reality.
Sure, the stakes are lower than the world of international business (though we are talking about books; what’s more important than books?). In some ways, perhaps, I’m being unfair to the corporate world and their HR professionals. They’re only doing what they feel needs to be done to serve their business interests. I’m not here to castigate or be a fly on the corporate elephant’s hind hide.
This is a celebration on the joys of independence that come with working for an independent bookstore. It’s a joy I carry most days, a joy I hope to pass along to you.
And that, my book-loving friends, is the truth.
About the “In Case You Missed It” Book Club
I read like a shark: constant movement forward. Even those of you who are less rapacious readers than I am, certainly have your own never-shrinking “to-read” pile. With all the good books constantly coming out each month, it’s impossible to keep up with every book you want to read, much less go back and get to the ones you really wanted to read last month, or last year or ten years ago.
The “In Case You Missed It” Book Club was conceived as a forced pause in the constant forward reading momentum. We’re looking to read those classics (cult or otherwise) people have been telling you that you just must read but can never seem to find the time. The first selection chosen by the group was THE MASTER AND MARGARITA, the long-banned/censored Mikhail Bulgakov classic of Stalin-era Russia.
If you’re interested, come by the store and pick up a copy (be sure to let the bookseller conducting your transaction know it’s for the ICYMI Book Club, so you’ll receive 20% off). Future book club selections will be solicited from the group. We’re still working on the details (days/times/locations/etc.) for the first meeting where we’ll discuss THE MASTER AND MARGARITA and pick the next selection. Stay tuned here, the store’s Facebook page and website for information. We hope you’ll join us.