Slipping into the bookstore


I love getting lost in a bookstore.

Okay, so I don’t really get “lost.” That would require me not really knowing the lay of the land, so to speak, and goodness knows I have plenty of experience wandering among the stacks.

The truth is that, like so many, I’ve started relying on alternate sources for my literature fix. Reviewing books frequently means novels arrive in packages and boxes, mailers and envelopes. I go to the library. I shop online. And, of course, there’s the whole issue of digital books — those electronic ones that pop up in a digital library with the swipe of a finger. My Kindle doesn’t get as much love as my physical books, but I do enjoy having lots of options at once in the palm of my hand.

I can’t quit bookstores, though. When our local Borders closed in 2011, I went into a period of mourning. The local bookstore was more than just a place that sold books, of course: it was a community hub, a hotspot, a place for friends to meet and mingle. In its heyday, Borders buzzed with people and music and life, pure and simple . . . and yes, they sold books. Lots of them. But books, though important, sometimes seemed beside the point.

After Borders liquidated and closed that summer, Spencer drove over to purchase some of the bookshelves which currently take up a quarter of the living room in our apartment (but that’s totally worth it). Word spread that Books-a-Million was planning to purchase and re-open our location in Southern Maryland, rumors that proved true a year ago. When I first popped into the store last summer, I felt anxious that a place I’d loved so well — and spent years as both employee and patron — would be forever changed. You can’t go home again, you know?

But maybe you can. I just re-read my post from last summer, one spilling over with sadness and uncertainty. When BAM! first opened, it didn’t feel like “my bookstore” anymore. The exterior was the same, yes, and the interior resembles the old Borders as well. But it obviously wasn’t Borders, and that hurt. I was deeply emotionally attached to the old place and just couldn’t. let. go.

Life marches forward, though. Much has changed in a year. As I get closer to the wedding and am prepping to move both my personal belongings and offices at work (more change.), I’m growing accustomed to getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s one of my single greatest challenges: adapting. Allowing something new to enter my life without mourning deeply for the old.

I’m getting stronger. I’m getting excited.

I went into Books-a-Million with my parents for the first time in a while last Friday. Where once the store seemed quiet, empty, there were plenty of people padding down the aisles with stacks of books in their hands. We waited in line at the register. It wasn’t as crazy as the old days, sure — but what is? There was a John Mayer playing overhead as soon as we walked in, just like those fall days in 2006, and I thought about the college student who once wandered the same aisles with the latest Harry Potter and a walkie-talkie clipped to her hip. Life was an oyster, and I’m busy finding the pearl.

Seven years later, I still love getting lost in a bookstore — and was thinking about how fortunate I am to be able to slip inside the same bookstore where I spent so many happy days.

Things have changed, but some things stay the same.

And I definitely came home with a book.

Dinner last night

Yeah, I don’t eat so well when I’m spending the weekend working at the store! Well, correction — I eat well, but I don’t eat healthy. I eat the opposite of healthy. I pig out on high-fat, caffeinated things! And they’re so delicious!

I’ll do much better today . . . we’re getting ready to head over to my uncle’s birthday party. My grandmother is cooking — and I’m ecstatic!

Irish kitteh luvs to . . . be included?

So I’ve been totally obsessed with the I Can Has Cheezburger? website for about a year now. It’s a bit of a strange obsession considering I am really not a cat person . . . honestly, they scare me. The closest I’ll ever come to them is when I’m catsitting for my neighbor, and even then I try and keep a healthy distance between Buddy the Cat and me.

But the photos are hilarious! And the “lolspeak” is likewise hilarious. The boyfriend and I frequently joke with one another in our newly-acquired language, and I’ve found myself playing barking to co-workers at the bookstore, “Yep, you can has it!”

I’m sure my English professors would give me a quick smack with a linguistics book if they ever heard me mouthing off in grammatically incorrect, random phrases like that, but no matter. This is why it’s great to be in the “real world”!

So anyway — I digress (yet again). The I Can Has Cheezburger? website has now published a book with some of the site’s “greatest hits” as well as never-before-seen images. We had the book in the warehouse of the bookstore the other night and, as another perk to my bookselling job, I got to take a peek at it before we lugged it out to the selling floor (the book releases Oct. 7, if you’re interested). This is usually the case — with the exception of “major” laydown books like Harry Potter and Breaking Dawn, which come sealed in massive packages and can only be opened under penalty of a swift death.

I got crazy excited thinking, vainly, that maybe my lolcat image (“irish kitteh luvs to jig”) had made it into the book — it’s been fairly popular on the site. Well, sadly, it was not part of the collection! This after I searched through nearly the whole book quickly, stifling a few laughs and rushing back off to the floor to, you know, do my job.

Well, maybe next collection! And I’ll continue to read the site faithfully with my Diet Pepsi Max every morning at my desk, chuckling to myself and minimizing the screen as soon as co-workers pass by!

Turning in the ‘mistress of ceremonies’ sash

I’m a drama queen. And no, not in the teenage-girl-eyeroll sort of drama queen way, where I’m constantly slamming doors and texting my friends in a huff because so-and-so didn’t include me in their plans to go to the mall this weekend.

I’m 23 years old, so that would be slightly more than ridiculous.

No, I’m a drama queen in the theatrical sense — I love performance, silliness and, yes, being the center of attention. Not all the time, of course, but most of the time.

I suppose this is exactly how I’ve come to be the resident “mistress of ceremonies” for all in-store events at my bookstore. To date, this has include the midnight releases of popular books Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Breaking Dawn and Brisingr, as well as a Holiday Open House, ceremony for the opening of our coffeeshop, Halloween storytime and an assortment of other smaller scale events.

And I’m always into these things! I was big into drama in high school but haven’t made time to get into theatre since then. My little crazy announcements and parties at the store are my only opportunity to be “dramatic” anymore.

And I usually dress up. Really dress up. Here’s me at the Harry Potter release in July 2007, just to give you an idea:


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Excuse me — where do you keep your invisibility cloaks?

Perhaps Harry can spare his?

Perhaps Harry can spare his?

One of the craziest customers I’ve ever dealt with made her way over to my information counter at the bookstore last night. I have to point out that in addition to being crazy, she really did look crazy — she had the biggest hair you’ve ever seen. When she spent too long wandering around the store and we were trying to close down, my supervisor muttered she was going to “tear her wig off.” (!)

In no particular order, said Crazy Lady was looking for books on the following topics (and yes, I wrote them down at the info counter — there was no way I was going to forget any of this ridiculousness):
• golden retrievers
• Princess Diana
• The Marine Corps
• Tammy Faye Bakker
• nuclear energy
• supernatural occurrences
• a world atlas
• coyotes
• metaphysical “gifts” — abilities
• The Kennedys
• a bible cover
• some famous artist I couldn’t pronounce

and . . . my favorite . . .

Invisibility! She wanted a book on INVISIBILITY! As in, to make one’s self invisible! She presented this question to one of my co-workers, not me . . . Because I probably would have had a hard time not suggesting the Harry Potter series. Harry has a mighty fine and useful invisibility cloak . . . Maybe she could get a few pointers on how to acquire one?

To be fair, she did purchase several of the books we found for her — which is a huge upgrade from the hour or so we can spend with a customer finding items, only to later come across the entire stack of them wedged behind a chair or piled up on a dirty cafe table. Joy of joys!

your existence has inconvenienced me

Contrary to the opinions of many retail employees, I actually like my part-time job. I like talking to people, and I enjoy helping them find what they’re looking for — especially considering it usually has to do with literature. I’ve spent my entire life loving books, and I intend to making a living writing them (eventually).

I’ve worked for the same bookstore for a little more than two years now, starting in the summer just before the start of my senior year of college. I was in a bit of a transitional phase, figuring out where I was headed and absolutely terrified of leaving school to be in the “real world.” When I think back on everything I’ve seen and done, all while still working at the bookstore, it’s sort of crazy to me. But I love it! I’ve met so many amazing people, made great friends, met my boyfriend/one-time coworker, whom I dearly love… and I get to talk about books and music all day.

That being said, as with any job where you’re routinely dealing with the public, there are just days I go to clock in and think, “Hmm. I’m in a sassy mood tonight. I’ve got to watch it.” Constantly going from my day job to my night job can be a bit draining, as anyone can imagine, especially considering I now have to change from my “business casual” day clothes to my “rough and messy” night clothes at work. Without a break in my day, working for roughly 14 hours straight isn’t really a great time.

Still, I know that’s definitely not the customer’s fault. I wouldn’t take it out on them — unless they get rowdy with me. Then we might have a problem. Which we frequently do.

Exhibit A:

I have a customer who loves to argue with me about coupons. I mean, really loves to argue. I don’t see her too often, but I have to brace myself when I see her get in line. Inevitably, I’m always the free cashier when she approaches (I have a magnetic way of attracting negativity, apparently). Now I know we’re in a tight economy — we’re all feeling it — but arguing rudely with a short girl behind the register about whether or not you have a coupon for 20 percent off of a book isn’t really the way to correct the problem. And when she finally does find some scrap of paper with our store name emblazoned somewhere on it — often it’s not even a real coupon — it’s months old. Like, two months old.

“So, you’re not going to honor it?” she asks me, staring blankly and angrily from behind her thin-framed glasses.

“It’s from June,” I say, staring just as blankly back at her. “I can’t take it.”

“Do you have another coupon I could use?”

“No, ma’am — we don’t have extra coupons. I need to have one to scan.”

“So you’re not going to take it.”


“This is really inconvenient for me…” she says, shaking her head and sighing angrily. “Your competitor would take it.”

“Okay,” I say, trying to diffuse the situation as quickly as possible. Other customers are starting to stare at her — she’s shaking. “Well, I’m sorry.”

“You’re not sorry.”

I blink a few times, then crack a small smile. “Okay,” I say again.

“You’ve really inconvenienced me,” she continues, her hands literally trembling as she shuffles through the contents of her massive purse. “And since you’ve inconvenienced me, I’m going to inconvenience you.”

Resolutely, my customer picks up her dark bag and completely upends it on the counter in front of me. I watch with a mix of shock, disbelief and horror as a wallet, wadded tissues, a glasses case, scraps of paper, miscellaneous other coupons and who knows what else spill all across my register, covering even the book she was trying to purchase in the first place.

In my head, I’m thinking, Lady, you’re not inconveniencing me — I get paid by the hour. In reality, I say nothing. What can you say? Anything I say can and definitely will be used against me — and if there’s one thing I never do, it’s talk back to customers. It gets you absolutely nowhere, and it just gives them additional ammo when they inevitably ask to speak to a manager.

So my customer continues rifling through all the junk on the counter as I take a step back, absorbing the equally bemused and horrified expressions of my coworkers. Eventually Purse Lady gives up, buys her book (at full price — no discount) and storms off, still grumbling about how this is why we’re going to close — because our competitor is so much better, blah blah blah. Of course, the obvious response to this is, “Then why not go shop there?” I don’t say this either, of course. That would be a suicide mission. And we’re not going to close.

Good thing I drank a latte before I clocked in.