Bookstore Clerks: Those Wonderfully Strange People

I write on Open Salon under the name "escrito por nada".  This is something I posted there,today.


You’ve seen them.  You may be one.  They’re the wonderfully odd people who work in bookstores.  They fit into all kinds of categories of strange.  Often somewhat introverted they come to life when they start to talk about books, or music, or movies on DVD.  They often wear clothes that were the essence of style at some point.  It’s just that no two pieces of apparel are from the same era. 

   "The Girl in the Cat Eye Glasses" (actually not)

Last week we were out of town and were looking for a movie our daughter recommended.  We were sent to see Jason.  Jason was energized.  He talked fast – we were in New York State and everyone talks faster than I think there – moved jerkily, and had a full beard and the most amazing hair I think I’ve ever seen.

Imagine a black haired Donald Trump who had been caught in a windstorm and then slept on his head, arising just long enough to grab a cup of coffee before heading to work.  That will bring you close to the image.

He knew everything about the 15 year old movie we were interested in and took us directly to the rack that held it.  I imagined that he had an encyclopedic knowledge about every movie in the store. 

I wondered about his hair.  Did he know exactly what he was doing, striving to achieve that look, or was he completely unaware of his head?

Whichever the case he was infinitely more interesting to talk to than the man we bought our washer and drier from, a retired business executive looking for something to do, who was interested in telling us about who he knew and how much trouble he was having selling his home in Hattiesburg and the cottage at the beach.  He had dressed down for the appliance store job, but he was undeniably the product of corporate America’s ladder to success.

Still, he did a good job, gave us the best price that the company would allow, and seemed genuinely interested in his job and us.

Bookstores used to be my favorite place to spend a Saturday afternoon.  I read the first page of so many books looking for the right one, that I had a hard time keeping up with which books I had already read.  I loved the feel of a paperback, the heft of a hardcover, and the smell of the store, a sort of potpourri of printers ink, paper, and the coffee aromas wafting in from the wi-fi café. 

A shelf of worn paperbacks.  Is this history?

Just a few years ago we had lots of choices and there was a Books – a – Million or a Hasting’s in just about every town of any size.  The chain bookstores suffered greatly before the recession as competition from on-line stores like Amazon brutalized them.

Today, we have a local store catering to political conservatives and evangelical Christians, but we have to drive an hour and a half to get to a town big enough to have a Barnes and Noble.  Border’s, the other large chain is gone along with its affiliates.  I have nothing against Barnes and Noble.  In fact, I want them to succeed.  It’s just that I miss the choices.  A cup of coffee and a scone at Joe Muggs was part of my weekend ritual for years.

The "Nook":  A wonderful instrument that will never be a book.  

There are plusses and minuses to the change in the way we buy and read books.  If I could still read newsprint I would not want to curl up with a Kindle or a Nook.  I know that, for writers, the advent of digital books has been something of a boon.  Instead of getting cents from the sale of a paperback, writers can get dollars from the sale of a digital book.  Still, it’s just not the same.

And, what is going to happen to Alice, the girl with the tattoo of Toulouse Lautrec and cat eye glasses, or Jason with the incredible hair and love of movies?


The images are google royalgy free images or were from a site expressly giving permission to share.

Views: 311

Comment by Joan H on August 29, 2012 at 3:55am

Your piece is timely. I made a special trip to a nearby bookstore yesterday and found that it was closed for good. 

Comment by lorianne on August 29, 2012 at 8:28am

*sigh* i love books, but to say such is to show your age.  one day kids will be responding "whats a book?" the way they do today if we mention an 8track.

Comment by Rodney Roe on August 29, 2012 at 3:31pm

Sort of "Who was Gutenberg?"

Comment by Kim Gamble on August 30, 2012 at 12:29am

My first job was in the local bookstore, but driving ( deliveries ) mainly. Still, it was lovely & it was redolent, & there was coffee.

I came across Eric Thacker & Anthony Earnshaw there ~ still have the books ( Musrum.) Fond memories, inadvertently leading to a career. Where I live now, there's only one bookshop, dealing in second-hand, but excellent. Like librarians, these people are helpful, bless them.

I enjoyed this piece very much, thank you.

Comment by anna1liese on August 30, 2012 at 2:45pm

Once upon a time ... I moved to a new town and saw a store called Borders.  I'd lived abroad and so thought it was a local bookstore.  Inside, I felt an energy, from everyone really ... a wonderfully positive, eccentric energy.  Coffee was brewing, people were gathering, conversations seemed all to be about books and authors.  I thought ... I could work in an atmosphere like this ... and so I asked.  Someone gave me a test ... a written test.  I think they asked first if I would rather work with music or with books.  Books ... clearly books.  The one question that made me smile was about the tax I would charge on a purchase price.  Someone took the test and looked at it, then set an interview time.  

I was only there for the holiday, but I learned so much.  So many knew of authors I knew nothing about.  

The one common bond, however, was that because of a discount offered to employees and the fact that we were surrounded by books that we loved ... everyone had a gathering stack of books in the back ... and hardly any of anyone's paycheck ever really left the store ..

Some of the employees were artists and musicians and everyone loved being surrounded by thousands of books.  

Now I am walking through Blackwell's in Oxford ...     Thank you for reminding me ...

Comment by Emily Conyngham on November 18, 2012 at 7:27pm

Rodney, it is the people who care about books that guide my choices - because of their hair, or their glasses sometimes, but mostly the breathless way their reviews tumble from their mouths. This was a heartwarming read.

Comment by Davyboy on December 6, 2012 at 10:28am

Borders and it's ilk drove the ma and pa bookstores out of business. Amazon killed borders.  I really miss the good old days.

Comment by Rodney Roe on December 6, 2012 at 7:52pm

Davyboy: wow, a late reader. Yes, the big box bookstores have suffered an ironic fate. Still, I can't find any joy in their misfortune. SHE WHO MUST BE OBEYED got a Kindle for her birthday. It is more than a book reader. Except for the fact that it doesn't come with a manual and is less intuitive than an iPad, it is pretty cool.

Comment by Davyboy on December 7, 2012 at 5:40am

I really like my kindle... Not tactile like a book but super convenient...The big box stores were villians in my eye.  We must have had 5 musty old bookstores in downtown Pittsburgh.  The had so many obscure and interesting books....I do miss the CD selection that Borders once had.  That was the first to go and the handwriting on the wall for the books.

Comment by ulysses on September 1, 2013 at 6:49pm

There are used book stores which have a similar feeling--usually minus the coffee though, sigh.  They have usually read everything and know where the book you want is, or how to dig it out.  I love the used book store in my town.  They are so amazing, the people that work there.  You feel a sense of a kindred spirit talking to them.  Nice piece. 


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