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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Chapter Twenty-Two, in which a Reader is wanted for every Book

Days with few or no people are a drag. Yet I can't help feeling full of possibility every time I walk into the store and see all the books on the shelf. "Anything can happen today."

There are people with all kinds of people with all kinds of stories. I have had some come in with purpose, determined to buy. I have had people browse for an hour and leave without anything. I have had students thirsting for classic literature. I have had elderly ladies who consume romance books. I have had obnoxious children question prices and demand to know why I don't have a particular anime title on the shelf. I have had people looking for jobs. I have had people looking to sell some books for cash so they can buy some groceries. I have had other bookstore owners, other collectors, and other local business owners. I have had numerous repeat customers. I have NOT had the mayor.

We bookstore owners often think "Do I have what my customer wants?" If we go out hunting and find books on falcons that we know would be of interest to someone, we acquire them. But let's take a look at a bookseller's life from a different perspective: "What do the books want?"

Books have their own stories, just like people. Unlike some people, books wait until they are invited to share their stories, instead of pouring out everything to anyone within earshot. I look at these books on my shelf, waiting patiently for a reader, thinking, each time someone walks through the door, "I hope they pick me!" And yet, those that aren't picked don't get discouraged, or bemoan their fate, or give up. They bear their stories between their covers and stand at attention, ever patient, ever hopeful.

"Oh, what things I can tell you," promise these books. Many times I have been drawn in by a book, once unknown to me, now discovered. And one of the greatest things about books and reading for me is that I always discover a web of connections, a map of roads less traveled, a revelation of something I didn't know I wanted or was interested in. Aptly named the bookstore called Serendipity.

So do we, as booksellers, have an obligation to find readers for our lesser-known books? When someone tells us that we have brought a little bit of culture to our tiny city, do we have a responsibility to steer people away from Robert James Waller and Jackie Collins, and guide them toward D.H. Lawrence and Thomas Hardy? Or are novels like Sons and Lovers and Jude the Obscure texts better kept secret to our brotherhood and from those who would leap after The Bridges of Madison County if it were thrown from Lemming Peak?

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