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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Who Decides Who “Belongs”?

Summer bookstore flowers on Waukazoo Street

Lots of bookstores have book clubs. Mine doesn’t. Over the years I’ve been asked if Dog Ears Books had a book club, received suggestions about what kind of book club various people might enjoy, and have considered the possibility from many angles. Repeatedly. Over and over (to be redundant, as “repeatedly” already said “over and over,” didn’t it?)

So why don’t I have a bookstore book club?

Wouldn’t it be a good idea? Wouldn’t it (1) give people encouragement to gather here, (2) to buy books from me, and (3) wouldn’t it add to the culture of our little village?

There are the pesky suspicions that probably arise in some minds when I mention our “intrepid Ulysses band,” the small group that first came together to read James Joyce and has been meeting irregularly ever since--why weren’t other people invited to join? and what about that other group that met for a few years before the five women the group comprised couldn’t even manage to find five times a year when their schedules were compatible? what kind of exclusive little clique was that?--so let me get the suspicions out of the way first. The Ulysses group and the erstwhile five-woman group were not my book clubs, nor were they bookstore book clubs. I didn’t start either one of them, and neither one met at the bookstore. Also, after a while, as those in book clubs or reading groups know from experience, a bonding among members can make it difficult to enlarge the circle. A shared history has grown up among group members. Besides, the group that’s still going meets at the same home every time, and our Fearless Leader and his wife feel that we are pretty much at capacity now for seating.

For a while, I tried to keep up with three groups, these two small ones and the larger, drop-ins welcome group at the township library. Once, during the library’s remodeling, the library group met at Dog Ears Books, but that only happened one time, and it happened before the new wall went up between Dog Ears Books and Red Mullein, making it more challenging to accommodate a large number of chairs. But, as I say, the smallest group fell apart, and I haven’t kept up with the library group.

Part of the explanation for the last sentence of the paragraph above is the same as the explanation for why there’s no Dog Ears Books book club. I can’t do everything. I have been blessed beyond my just deserts to have Bookstore Bruce as a regular part-time volunteer for well over a decade (without him I would never have a day off), but, like me, he’s getting older, too, and I can’t ask him to take on more than he already shoulders. Other bookstores have paid staff. Libraries have paid staff, plus whole armies of volunteers. Dog Ears Books is basically a one-person operation.

This morning can serve as an example. After bank and post office errands and the tacking up of a few posters around town, back at the bookstore, among the storm of e-mail messages (I hadn’t checked in since early the day before) were inquiries from an author about when her book review would appear in a local newspaper; from a book publicist asking if I would write a review of a book sent to me last week; from authors contacted by the publicist about reviewing, wondering who she was; from someone in a local book club urging me to have an author event for a writer who had recently been the guest of their group; from a couple more people wanting to reserve copies of Ken Scott’s ICE CAVES book (order e-mails are always welcome!); and a whole flurry from the Ulysses group people, trying to figure out when we can meet next and what we should try to read and discuss. And that was just e-mail. There is also the telephone, the UPS delivery, and – bless their hearts! – customers in the bookstore! You are the best, folks: you’re why I’m here, and you keep me in business!

Ordering new books, looking at collections to buy, in-store sales, stocking shelves, inventory management, shipping orders, publicity, advertising, bookkeeping, correspondence – I mean, not to make this “all about me” but those jobs are me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me. In-store events? Me again. Book clubs, like other in-store gatherings, don’t happen by themselves. They need to be planned. They need to be organized. Word about them needs to get out. Preparations need to be made. As much fun as it all is, there’s a lot of work involved. That’s not a contradiction: parties are fun, too, but it’s a lot of work to get one together.

One summer someone thought it would be fun if people simply came and brought books they’d been reading and shared them with others, rather than having everyone read the same book. I think that would be great for a group of friends to do, but a bookstore book club needs to be selling books to members if it’s going to function as part of the business, i.e., to keep the bookstore alive.

When someone says to me, “I’d love to be in a book group,” I say, “Why not start one?” And now I'll say that if anyone would like to start one and have it meet regularly here, all I’d ask is that members order their books through my bookstore. Organizing, choosing books, scheduling meetings, refreshments – all that and whatever else people would want included would have to be the responsibility of the person starting the group, but there’s no reason why it can’t happen.

I’m here. I’ll be here all summer. And I do try to make everyone who comes in the door feel welcome. You are all my friends, old and new.

Winter evening, back in time


Fleda Brown said...

A review of a book you just received last week? This is the kind of thing that drives me nuts. People want me to write blurbs for books IN A WEEK. I have turned down friends, with that kind of timeline. I want to write blurbs for books I love, but someone needs to be thinking ahead...

P. J. Grath said...

I've turned down a lot of review copies, Fleda, either because I don't have time to read the book (on top of so many others) or because it isn't my kind of book, and I think the author would be better served by someone else. I've also become a lot more selective about reading mss. As is also true of you, I'm sure, I love reading mss. and reviewing books and having contact with people in various parts of the book, you should excuse the term, "industry," but again, I just can't do everything. In a large bookstore, for instance, there would be one person assigned the events planner. Etc., etc.

But I love my bookstore! It is simply the difference between having a dream and living the dream. Latter takes a lot of hard work.

Dawn said...

You're sounding pressured from all different directions. I agree, just like a library may provide space for a group, but doesn't orchestrate the group or provide food for the group (heavens, food in a library?!) or post notices for the can provide space as long as all the rest is handled by the group.

P. J. Grath said...

I have to admit that I am, in general, not much of a leader or organizer of groups. It is not a talent much possessed by introverts, we little mouse people hiding in corners with books in front of our faces!