In the past two years I’ve worked at both a video store and a bookstore. At the video store, people rarely wanted advice. Occasionally they’d come up to the counter with two movies, ask what I thought of them, then completely ignore my advice and rent a third movie. I ended up watching a lot of free movies that summer, but mostly became completely miserable working with one insufferably smug hipster. My hatred for specific ex-coworkers aside, the job was mostly bland and boring, involving little more than straightening endless shelves of DVDs (or old, cracked VHS cases that refuse to stay in box-shape).
What it lacked, I’ve come to realize, is any sense of narrative. The questions I was (rarely) asked fell into two categories: a. have you seen it? and if yes b. was it good? Never was I asked for an explanation beyond the most cursory ‘good acting’ or ‘interesting visuals.’ I never had a chance to share with the customers my love of stories, whether of the film itself or the history surrounding it.
I realize that this is a completely selfish complaint. People in a video store have usually seen the trailers, read a review, scanned the jacket, or simply recognized an actor’s name, providing some stimulation of their curiosity. These names and external sources give the film some credibility, thus requiring little more of me than a yes or no. On top of this, they’re renting something for a day or two – there isn’t quite the same level of commitment as spending $15 on a book that’ll take a week to read.
Fully indulging in my own selfishness, I still felt this job lacked in some fundamental aspect and I quit. A boring and cold stint in construction (accompanied by a boring and cold semester at school) brought me to my bookstore job. This job had its issues – money, general boredom, but it had a wonderful customer service aspect. I loved, and still love, selling books. I quit recently, but not because of bookselling.
I still had the occasional customer who simply wanted a yes or no, many customers who completely ignored my suggestions, and many more who just wanted to browse (which I completely understand. I hate being bothered in bookstores). There were, however, a few customers who made the job worth it. People who would come in and ask for something good to read, and list off a series of my favourite books as ones they’d liked. I enjoyed giving these people books that I loved, but this wasn’t the best part. The best part involved the actual salespitch.
This is where the narrative that I wrote about above comes in. Each of these cherished books, books that I’ve read over and over again, has its own little sales pitch, a story that often relates very little to the tale inside. I’ll take a customer to Jeff Smith’s Bone and describe how I give this book to everyone from my fourteen year old sister to the eighty year old who just walked out. I’d go to A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole and tell them the story surrounding its publication. I love wrapping each story in its own narrative, hoping that my own enthusiasm for to book comes across in my breathless presentation of the physical object into their hands. If they still aren’t convinced, then I switch to synopses of the stories. Which is also kinda fun.
On the flip side, when I’m forced to sell The Power of Now or The Secret or, god forbid, The Game (none of which I’ll link to, sorry) I generally just say “it’s a big seller,” or the ultimate tool, “it’s an Oprah pick.”
Alas, I barely made enough money there to live, and I need something new (being all freshly graduated ‘n all). Upon finishing this post, I think I’ll make it a goal of mine to find a job that incorporates narrative in some form or another, enough to keep the part of my brain that loves stories from going insane.
Or I’ll enter data. You know, whatever.