Saturday, June 23, 2007

an ode to the counter life

In The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: a memoir, a history Lewis Buzbee manages to evoke the first discovery/infatuation of books for those of us who later became obsessed by them. I could relate to so much of his description his childhood~memories of the Scholastic Weekly Reader and all those books i wanted to order but Mom would only let me buy a few (if only i had more of her moderation now).

Though Buzbee worked in bookstores and also as a publisher's sales rep he still visits bookstores of every kind and with every chance he gets. When he does so, he describes it with the love and awe that i remember having before becoming the "bibliocareerist" that i am today, and that i fear i've lost. It was wonderful to read about it and remember.

Buzbee also gives a wonderful history of booksellers and bookprinting that is interesting and gives details that i either didn't learn or have forgotten from my History of the Book and Printmaking (or whatever that class was called~i don't even remember) in Library School. He also makes a wonderful proposal:

"a two-year mandatory retail service for all citizens and legal residents. no amount of family money or influence, or college dedication, would relieve you from this service. Mandatory; no exceptions. Only the luck of the draw would put you to work in a record store or a bookstore; the rest would have to work in the food industry (tho Buzbee himself has never worked in the food industry~as i have~if he had he would know it is an entirely different beast) or at the Gap (some might prefer this option), or heaven forbid, Wal-mart.

* * *

The benefits of mandatory retail service are, I think many sided. The bank accounts of parents putting their children through college would be far less depleted by cell-phone charges, drinking games and trips to Europe, these liberated funds could be invested to support our failed and failing corporations. Social Security coffers would grow. Because retail employees learn firsthand about the basic tools of business, colleges and universities would be able to restaff humanities departments with the money saved on accounting courses. (i'm not so sure about that) Sales of sturdy shoes would skyrocket.

The greatest benefit to my little plan would be in the creation of a truly kinder and gentler nation. Imagine that every American citizen had at one time worked in retail, and you might glimpse the possibility of a future in which all us, participating in our national pastime, shopping, would have more patience. We would understand that items are sometimes out of stock and life does continues, that service without a smile is still service, that getting rid of your small change is not one of life's more laudable goals, nor is cashing out a speed trial."

Love the idea (of mandatory retail service)~as unrealistic and unpractical the issues of carrying out such a plan may be...

I really enjoyed reading this book, especially his recommendations of bookstores to visit on the West Coast and Paris. I was a bit disappointed in his admitted "undereducation" of stores in the Midwest or East coast as it marred his modern history just a touch with the over thirty-year history of (what has BECOME) a chain near and dear to my heart (tho i'm more than a little bitter about the whole chain/corporate aspects of it all~because that's not quite how it started out~but what can we do?) He also missed the small city that has the highest number of bookstores per capita, but other than those (very) small issues i loved the book...

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