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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Their World and Mine – Light Years Apart

With the exception of the man who wanted to haggle with me over price a few days back (I posted about the incident on Facebook but don’t want to dwell on it any further), my recent bookstore conversations have been happy ones, for the most part, pleasurable for me and for my customers.

One local man who buys used paperback books by the bagload and brings them back after reading for trade credit, then buying “new” (used) books for a 50% discount, came in for one of his regular visits, and when he brought his stack of books to the counter for purchase, his face was wreathed in smiles. “This is so much fun!” he said. “I love buying books this way!” I thanked him for his appreciation. What a great way for both of us to start the morning! 

Without the press of summer heat or crowds, there is more time to visit with customers, taking note of books they select and talking about what they and I have been reading. We give each other ideas. We share experiences. And it’s been very pleasant, day after day, especially in this politically trying season. I feel as if my bookstore is an oasis for many people. Actually, people often tell me that it is.

So when another late middle-aged couple strolled in on Wednesday afternoon, I anticipated another pleasant encounter. I asked what they were particularly interested in, so I could make sure they found subject matter they might otherwise miss. “Oh, bookstores, libraries,” the woman responded airily, and I inferred from her answer that they didn’t want help and would be happier exploring by themselves, but that’s always fine with me. I often feel the same way in bookstores.

But then the woman stopped to explain that she and her husband were “downsizing,” and next, right away, she demanded in an almost accusatory voice, “Do you have any idea how hard it is to get rid of books?!”

The question took my breath away! I was (for a change) speechless.

Given their circumstances and feelings, why would they come into a bookstore at all? And why would the woman be compelled to share with me a sentiment so obviously opposed to my way of life and my way of making a living?

Selling books has always been more of a challenge than selling beer or burgers, but I have managed to keep my head above water as a bookseller for nearly a quarter of a century. That is to say, I sell books. On occasion, I do an inventory purge, and then I donate boxes of books to charitable resale organizations. Sometimes, either impulsively or after thoughtful consideration, I give books away.

But getting rid of books? That is a concept I do not understand.

Termites, now. Having to get rid of termites, I can see, would be a serious problem. Working to get rid of mold – there’s another terrible problem people sometimes have in their houses. Less drastically, in certain seasons, some of us fret about getting rid of fruit flies or mice. But books?

Never do I “get rid of” books! I help books find homes, either first-time homes or new homes. The difference is one between something no one would want, e.g., termites, and something of value.

I said none of this to the downsizing couple but simply urged them, as they walked out the door again, to enjoy the day. I’ve learned over the years that not everything that goes through my mind needs to come out my mouth. Wasted breath is wasted energy, anyway, and at my age I no longer have energy to waste.


BB-Idaho said...

Book collections are often personal taste and probably overvalued by
the owner. I have about 1800 in my study heavily weighted towards
my interests; pre-history, ancient history, civil war, western, British, WWII: genetics, early Christianity, beginnings of civilization, Native Americans, rocket propulsion, blah-blah & etc.
Many I've read 2-3 times and consider them one of my treasures. However, friends and family find them boring and I suspect the local library, full of kindles and how-to stuff, would forward a donation to the area landfill. Not sure if a college library would treat them as nicely as I do either. A high school might be interested. Reminds of the idiom 'don't throw the baby out with the bathwater' or its cousin 'one man's baby is another man's bathwater? That said, I will
not get "rid" of them. Unfortunately, I worry my survivors will!

P. J. Grath said...

BB, my home library, a “collection” in only the most haphazard sense, probably doesn’t have a lot of overlap with yours, but mine is similarly full of oddball, beloved volumes. More than one was something too shabby to offer for sale in my shop but too precious in my eyes to be thrown away, e.g., a copy of Robert Burns poems without any cover left at all.

Recently a visiting friend told me she had brought up a big box of books from her house, intending to donate them to my bookstore. “My house is so small,” she said, “and it’s so full of stuff I thought I needed to clear out the books. Then I walked into your bookstore and saw how beautiful all the books looked on the shelves – and I said to myself, ‘Nope! My books are going back home with me!’” She realized she loves her books and that they make her home a home. Her story made me very happy!

Dawn said...

I hope that what she meant was that it was hard to part with her books....I can't believe anyone that has accumulated books actually gets rid of them. They just gently move them along to new readers, and even that is hard sometimes.

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn, I considered that alternative interpretation, but it didn't seem to go with her facial expression or tone of voice. But maybe she's one of those people whose expressions and meanings don't match up. It's definitely (from my perspective) a more generous interpretation, so let's go with it. Thanks! :)