Adventures in Reading

I Ain’t Dead & Bookstore Happenings
December 13, 2008, 9:01 am
Filed under: maintenance, thoughtful | Tags: , ,

I’ve been absent over the past few weeks and though I had a rather light course load this semester, the conclusion of the year was pretty demanding. But everything is finished and today is my first day of nearly a month without any classes (though I will still be plugging away at the bookstore).

The bookstore has been interesting. We’ve been frightfully busy and anyone popping in would be surprised to learn of the economic situation of the country. Whether this is true or not, but I had one customer tell me that she believed people were looking to give more meaningful and lasting gifts this year. After all, there are few gifts as meaningful and lasting that you can purchase for the price of a book!

(Also allow me to add that at present I am not too keen on WordPress’ recent interface alterations. Usually tech-like changes don’t bother me in the least, but I don’t find it intuitive at all. Perhaps I just need to play with it a bit more. I just inadvertently deleted about 20 comments. Sorry!)


November 2, 2008, 2:47 pm
Filed under: thoughtful | Tags: , , , , , , ,

It is November already, can you believe it? and it has been many weeks since* I’ve said anything about working conditions at the bookstore. To say the least, the holiday season is upon us and I am not at all looking forward to months and months of Christmas music being piped in that I can’t ignore despite my best efforts.

The holiday season is not a period of jovial festivities in the retail world, but rather more reminiscent of war times where we’re all encouraged to bunker down, ration our resources, and heaven-help-us-all please wash your hands or we’ll all have strep throat by the end of the week! It doesn’t help that I’m not too keen on the holiday season to start with, and that yearly a handful of bad nuts wreck any optimism or hope I have for humankind.

On the good side, within two days the agonizingly painful maintenance count of the Obama versus McCain books will cease.

*Thanks Carson!

Bookends: Uppity Customers & Conclusions
September 2, 2008, 12:42 pm
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Of all the customers I see on a weekly basis, one of my personal least favorites is the uppity and competitive fiction reader. (This comes in closely with customers requesting the “new S.I.” [1] and expecting me to know immediately what they’re asking for.) I had one the other evening and the gist of the conversation is: “Have you read this? And this? And this? What, no? You suck. Why the hell would they employ you if they could hire me?” While I am a voracious reader and plow through a stack of books that even impresses myself, I sincerely hope that I don’t purposefully make people feel poorly or stupid because they haven’t read the same books or as many. But this customer always comes off as a little rabid and with strange bookstore illusions: that all we do is read fiction and tell customers about it. I wish!

A new feature that has been appearing at the closing of my reviews has been the mention of conclusion. During the year I’ve been Spring Cleaning my book collection by encouraging myself to read books I already own and limiting myself to acquiring books through Bookmooch. At least since the beginning of the summer, as I close the cover of each book I’ve read, I’ve had to make the decision to keep it, give it away/back, or Mooch it. Regardless of my reviewing abilities, my final decision says a great deal on what I thought of a book and I’ve decided to share that decision. Also, I’m going to begin listing the books I’m adding to Bookmooch before I actually add them. So if you see I’m adding something you’re interested in, please comment with your Bookmooch username and I’ll reserve the copy for you. [2]

[1] Apparently Sports Illustrated.

[2] For right now this is limited to other Bookmooch members because (1) I want to encourage the program and (2) I still have a great deal of books I’m interested in Mooching! [3]

[3] Generally, I have no problem Bookmooching between countries/continents.

Free Borders Giftcard
July 4, 2008, 3:45 pm
Filed under: thoughtful | Tags: ,

Over the past two months I have been very lucky when it comes to winning prizes, and as I don’t have the time or money to hit Vegas this summer, instead I’m hitting In the Shadow of Mt. TBR, who is offering a $20 gift card for Borders as a prize.

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Revisted: Waiting For the Barbarians by Coetzee

Coetzee is an author whose name I see rather regularly. Whether in magazines, newspapers, or simply one I come across at work, he seems quite popular. Waiting For the Barbarians plays into the dystopian genre without ever completely being a dystopian story. If you’ve enjoyed 1984, A Brave New World, or A Handmaid’s Tale you’ll undoubtedly enjoy this novel.

Set in an unknown landscape of an unknown world, the narrator or the “I” (we never learn his name) of the story shares his story as magistrate of an outpost of a mighty Empire. As the title suggests, the people of this town are waiting for barbarian invaders and nearly from page one to the final page one constantly questions the existence of the barbarians or perhaps more appropriately: who is more barbaric – the Empire or the barbarians?

The book jacket describes the novel as a story of “the oppressor and the oppressed” but I somewhat tended to disagree. In the sense of the citizens, the barbarians, and the Empire this is true; however, the narrator spends the first half and the last few pages of the book discussing women in terms of objects and his careless, sexual use of them. Likewise, even as he discovers the barbarism of the empire he still continues to discuss them as uneducated and uncivilized fools. Even by the end of the novel, when the citizens of this outpost have seen the destruction of the Empire and have the opportunity to leave, they remain docile and under the yoke of the magistrate who has resumed power.

Perhaps Coetzee intended the story to be like, for example, embracing an imperialist mind sight, but it creates a somewhat monotone atmosphere for the novel. The magistrate who is at one point described of trying to be a hero, a martyr, the one who sees the truth – never really seems to grasp the truth except in his own response to his environment and pain. In this way, it is a very internal and self-exploring novel. An enjoyable read, but a novel in need of a better jacket summary.

Whenever I think of J.M. Coetzee I immediately recall a post in which a blogger posted an experience of visiting a bookstore, asking where Coetzee (perhaps his latest) was located, and a bookseller unfamiliar with the author had to look him up (and I’m assuming probably also asked about spelling). The poster was most irate about this experience, complaining about people uninterested in literature working in bookstores, and ranting how booksellers should have to read book reviews, news, etc.

At the time I wanted to say something most scathing, but resisted because I figured it would be a futile experience, but here I am months later still nagged by the ebbing memory of the post. What I had wanted to say was: considering our miniscule wages and the current retail environment, there is simply no way a bookstore employee is going to get paid to read about books and no employee in their right mind is going to spend valuable free time researching books to directly better help the customer.

While J.M. Coetzee, an award winning South African writer, may be a big name to some he’s not really a big name when it comes to selling books. Janet Evanovich, James Patterson, Jane Austen, Stephanie Meyers, and David Sedaris – all yes, but Coetzee is scraping the bottom of the barrel. Simultaneously, there are so many new books coming out it would be impossible for someone to remember all of them. Many booksellers have a specialty area that reflects their own personal interests, so please be considerate in realizing the enormous amount of books and not everyone may have the same taste in books as yourself.

And while I’m getting this off of my chest, a different poster had a list of complaints about her repeated bookstore experience, but one I found rather amusing: bookstore employees repeatedly asking her if she needed help. This happens when a customer (even if previously asked) projects the look of being lost, is a customer we don’t recall (and at the end of the day dear book buyer you are just another one), or we think you’re shoplifting. If you are a regular and consider yourself a regular (though you’re probably not as much of a regular shopper as you think you are) but are still pestered by overly helpful booksellers I suggest taking the odd few minutes to become more friendly and chances are we’ll remember you. If you think being mean works, it doesn’t, to us that’s just another shoplifting ploy.

P.S. It’s a pretty great book!

A quote from Michael Chabon
June 14, 2008, 10:03 am
Filed under: thoughtful | Tags: , , , , , ,

In the P.S. edition of Michael Chabon’s The Final Solution, A Story of Detection is a short interview with Chabon. What is generally suggested is that as a Pulitzer Prize winner what can or should a reader infer of Chabon writing just a detective novella. From this interview, I pulled a great quote from Chabon:

“I’m really annoyed by pigeonholes and categories and labels. I view them as iniquitous to the spirit of play and of experimentation and of storytelling. The fact at a bookstore, the fiction is divided into fiction and mystery and science fiction, I don’t understand why it has to be that way. To me it’s all fiction, and I think the best science fiction, the best mystery fiction, the best horror fiction ought to be put on par with the best quote-unquote ‘literary fiction.’”

I do find this fascinating and speaking from my experience as a reader and my experience as a bookseller, it can be pretty damn difficult to talk someone into switching genre. Hell, it’s difficult enough to talk myself into switching genre. Though I usually read quite heavily from the fiction and literature section I seldom find myself in science fiction, fantasy, or horror and I cannot recall ever reading a mystery or thriller book. (Though the book Fail Safe is a military thriller it is listed as literature.)

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June 6, 2008, 6:48 pm
Filed under: thoughtful | Tags: , , , ,

I had some disappointing news the other afternoon that the bookstore I work at is cutting back hours and quite a few people working full time went to part time hours. Myself included. Thus, for better or worse, I have started seeking new employment. I’ve yet to decide whether I would completely leave the bookstore or continue to work a few hours a week. If I did leave I would definitely miss the store and the people.

I am trying to be positive as I can about this though. I never intended on staying permanently at the store, and this is perhaps the nudge I needed to get me to explore a new job path. A different job could mean better pay and I do graduate at the end of the year. Additionally, I have been researching and considering joining the Peace Corps, and I have mostly decided to submit an application by the end of August. I have a summer course in Spanish sneaking around the corner as well, and as I am not under any too immediate financial worries the extra free time can be used for some much needed Spanish review.