Tuesday, January 28, 2014

An amateur no more...

 So, this past week, I realized a life-long dream.  After years of working the amateur circuit, I have become a professional bookseller.  What's an amateur bookseller, you may be asking?  Well, I've had a pretty fierce case of bookseller-envy going, and it wasn't at all uncommon for me to loiter in a bookstore for hours, hand-selling favorite titles to random customers, answering questions... possibly moving friends' books to more advantageous shelf positions.
I am delighted to announce that I've been hired by Bookshop West Portal, one of San Francisco's
finest independent booksellers.  (Thank you Neal, Kevin, & Richard!)  I've been shopping at Bookshop West Portal for years.  They've also hosted some of my favorite author events: Ann Patchett, Gary Shteyngart, Jonathan Tropper, my pal Matt Richtel, and so many more.  My new co-workers are people I want as friends.  Take my word for it, it's a really good place!
It was kind of fun to announce this new job to friends and the world.  There was a widespread cry of "You're perfect for it!"  And I was tickled by the number of best-selling authors who took the time to congratulate me.  I spend so much time with writers; I can't wait to see a friend show up in the shop to sign stock.  And I've already started hand-selling my favorite books.  Please don't tell my new bosses, but this feels a bit like being paid (albeit modestly) to do what I normally do:
  • Follow the publishing industry
  • Read a bunch of books
  • Talk to people about them
Best. Job. Ever.

So, yes, it's business as usual around here, but now when I read the PW Daily, I can feel noble.  "This is for work," I say.  Peruse reviews in the New York Times--for work.  Earlier tonight I was schmoozing with a Pulitzer Prize winner and a National Book Award winner--for work.  And I'm reading more than ever, which, as you know, is saying something.

I fear that my television viewing--already well below the national average--is going to suffer.  As these things go, I've probably read more new titles than the average bookseller.  My iPhone tells me that I read an average of 4.3 books a week last year.  But surely I can up that number?  I would really like to read at least 5 books a week this year.  250 books in 2014 sounds like a reasonable goal.  After just a few days in the store, it's become incredibly obvious just how much easier it is to (a) sell a book, and (b) help a customer, if you've actually read every book in the store.  Happily, I was able to compare and contrast The Goldfinch and The Luminaries for a customer this week.  (That's 1,600 pages right there.)  I was able to give my personal seal of approval to Lisa O'Donnell's debut novel, The Death of Bees to a nervous book club reader.  I was able to recommend Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore and Ernie Cline's Ready Player One for the woman looking for something light to bring a sick friend.

Oh, can we talk gifts?  I wrapped a lot of gifts this week!  (This is actually pathetic.  My family will attest that my gift-wrapping skills are remedial at best.  So much to learn.)  But the subject of gifts reminds me of the best thing I saw this week, and it happened on my very first day.  It was the best omen imaginable.

Bookshop West Portal is tremendously valued by the local community.  It's so incredibly obvious.   Any number of customers mentioned how important it was to support their local independent bookstore as I rang them up.  And there's a terrific core of super-friendly regulars.  They're greeted by name, as I am in so many bookstores across the city.  I was warmly welcomed by all that I met.  That first day I met a customer that I'll simply refer to as "the Hungarian Gentleman."  He came by to pick up a special order that included hardback copies of Wildwood and Under Wildwood by Colin Meloy (which are already out in paperback).  "How many copies of these books do you think I buy?" he asked my colleague.  His guess of "a dozen" was a little low.  Apparently, it was more like 30 copies of each book.  This lovely man, this Hungarian Gentleman, buys these beautiful books to hand out to random young people that he meets as he goes through his daily life.  He'll stop and gift them to a kid on the street and go on his way. 

The Hungarian Gentleman had to feed his meter.  He dropped off the books in his car and came back.  While he was browsing, a teenage girl came in looking for a copy of Veronica Roth's latest, Allegiant.  I didn't witness this interaction, but he must have approached her.  He wound up buying her copies of both Meloy books, as well as her copy of Allegiant.  It was a not inconsiderable total, and he was so clearly happy to do it.  This Hungarian Gentleman is a literary Santa Claus!  (I'm not kidding; I've heard he sometimes takes poor booksellers out for meals.  Amazing.)  This man is doing everything possible to foster a love of reading in these young people, no strings attached.  I didn't know people like this existed.  I mean, I've been a Bookcrosser for years, but this is taking the  Random Act of Literary Kindness (RALK) to a whole new level.  And I get to work in a store where such people congregate.

I've only been on the job for a week.  I haven't had to schlep boxes of books until my back aches.  I haven't had a customer give me grief over a bad recommendation.  I haven't had the slightest negative experience.  I'm not an idiot.  Shiny, new jobs fade, and bad days are a part of life.  But, you know what?  Everyone who knows me knows that I was born to be a bookseller.  I already have been a bookseller.  I think that this is going to be a good fit.


  1. Congrats! Congrats! Congrats! It's a PERFECT fit for you!

  2. I'm glad you are enjoying it!

  3. That is high praise, indeed, coming from a formerly "grumpy bookseller." Thank you.

  4. Squeee! I love this post, Susie, so I've shared it with the world. Well, my world anyway. I'm so glad you've had a great start here. I don't think we visited this bookstore in any of my visits, so obviously a visit will be in order next time, whenever that is.

  5. Susan - I am so thrilled for you. I can feel the warmth of your beaming smile through your words. Kick some book-selling arse!!

  6. Thanks so much, ladies!

    SL, do you remember that colorful Mexican place we ate in your first day in town last visit? Bookshop West Portal is just down the block. We didn't stick our heads in? How unlike us.

    And thank you, Lauren. That is especially kind coming from a former bookseller/publisher's rep. Congrats on the forthcoming novel! I've seen the galley listed online. Woohooo

  7. Oops, comment posted prematurely. That was supposed to say, "Woohooo back at you! Your news is far more exciting than mine. I'm so happy for you and look forward to selling your debut novel!"

    And Deb and Patricia... Wow, this place is beginning to feel like a Boardello. (We'll just let the other commenters wonder about that one.). Thanks for your kind word. So good to "see" you!

  8. This makes me smile and smile! Congratulations, Susan!

  9. Congrats on the new "job", Susan! The store and its customers are the lucky ones. What a way to start the day, the smell of new books!

    Liz "Lib"

  10. Congratulations, Sue. I hope it's a perfect fit for many years.

  11. Congratulations, it is a perfect fit. I'm a little envious, not just about the job, but over how many books you read and how well you can remember them, and how many authors you've met, and even the Hungarian Gentleman. Lucky, lucky. Enjoy doing what you were meant to do, and Happy Reading!

  12. Yay, you've got the ideal job! Keep promoting The Death of Bees and Ready Player One, they are my favorites, too!

  13. I am so happy for YOUUUUUU! :) xoxo (and that's one lucky bookstore)

  14. Yay! What great news, Susan. Can't wait to walk in and see "Staff Picks"!