Monday, May 6, 2013

"I love the smell of bookstores in the morning."

Over the weekend, Patrick and I took Jules to a local Long Beach bookstore where our friend Jeff was playing with one of the ensembles he's in. We'd never been to this bookstore, which is crazy, because it's about 1.5 miles away from our house (and next to the bike store, which we both have been many times). It's a little funky used bookstore, apparently small enough for one employee at a time. That one employee, when we first got there, resembled Ernst from the movie "The Hotel New Hampshire," blond, handsome, with a thin little mustache. The guy who came in after him had dirty fingernails and a bit of a tremor.

As a long-time, former bookstore employee, I think I've pretty much seen it all, at least as far as the type of people who work in bookstores goes.

While we were waiting for the band to get ready, I wandered around the bookstore a little bit. They sell used books, and the space is pretty small, so it was easy to see everything in a short amount of time. The book I picked up rather haphazardly at first was Rob Lowe's autobiography. What can I say? I knew I didn't have a lot of time. Sort of magically, I turned, at random, to the chapters where he writes about "The Outsiders." I'd forgotten he had been in that movie, which is one of the very few instances I can think of where the movie was as good as the book. I'm in no way commenting on his performance as an actor. I didn't read the whole story he wrote about that movie, because Jules wanted to be held. Maybe I'll find it at the library. Then, I discovered (in a box) Anne Rice's "Sleeping Beauty" trilogy, and just the sight of those quality paperbacks, with the original (as I remember) covers, took me straight back to 1991, when I was working at Crown Books in Culver City.

Everyone is (or was) all excited about the book "50 Shades of Grey," which I haven't read, and don't intend to read. I haven't read a lot of erotica, but the shitty reviews (or, I should say, the reviews that reveal that it's a shitty book) of "50 Shades" are enough to keep me from checking it out. Not one person has told me to read the book because it's well-written, and I don't have a lot of time for books as it is: why would I waste my time on one that's terrible? Anyway, I had read the Anne Rice books, or at least the first one, back in 1991, while working at Crown, hiding in the corner to the right of the cash registers.

So here's the thing about working in a bookstore, or at least, a bookstore with a corporate headquarters: you really aren't supposed to read the books. At least, not on the floor. This was the rule at all the bookstores I ever worked in, and, aside from not being on time for work very often, the rule I broke the most. Truly, I almost got written up at Rizzoli (or was threatened with it, though, I don't think anyone ever got written up at Rizzoli) for it. I wish he'd done it, because what the hell, right? There are worse things I could've done (and were surely done by my co-workers, some of whom were blatant drug users and outright thieves).

Here's another thing you should know about working in bookstores, should you be looking for that kind of job (and good luck to you, because there sure aren't many bookstores left): people who profess to "love the smell of bookstores" almost never get hired. That type of person, who has a romanticized notion about a building that most likely hasn't been properly vacuumed in years, where the smell of the "books" is more likely a moldy carpet or the other employees, is probably a little bit crazy. We know that, those of us who work in bookstores. We know that "old book" smell is probably the receiving clerk's lunch. From two weeks ago.

Yes, books are awesome. Yes, buying, selling, handling, talking about books, opening the new shipments up for the first time: that's pretty fucking rad. But we didn't wear those aprons at Crown for nothing: it's a dirty business sometimes, and you need to know that you're going to be crawling around on your hands and knees, rearringing the travel section a lot of the time. But the thing that's truly wonderful about bookstores is the people, and that's what I miss the most. I'm pretty introverted: I'm not very outgoing with strangers, and I can be a little awkward, but I loved ringing up people and handling their books and the act of the sale itself, the sound of the cash register, or the credit card machine, and then packing their books up, and wondering about the person buying them (what made them pick these two books?), asking if the writer was any good if I didn't know, supressing a chortle if I did know that the writer sucked. I loved all that, I love straightening a section (I used to say, "I'm inflicting the alphabet on this section!") and cleaning it up.

So, I walked past the used copies of the Sleeping Beauty trilogy a few times. I thought about how much I enjoyed Anne Rice's other books (not all of them!!!!), and how I thought she did vampires so much better, with way better writing than anything I've seen since, and I thought, I should check these out (again). I remember being young when I read the first one, and feeling shocked at the things she was writing, but now that I know about her (and life) a little more, I wonder if there's a hidden value in that, if there's something in reading these books beyond the initial, secret thrill. Somebody out there, probably lots of somebodies, has figured it out already, because there are so many smart people in the world, and I'm not necessarily one of them. Still, I think they'll be fun to read. Anyway, the books were cheap. They were practically giving them away.

I'll let you know if I figure it out.


  1. Not only am I not going to judge you for getting those "Sleeping Beauty" books, but I'm going to cop to having listened to the audiobook of Rob Lowe's memoir, read by the man himself. Pretty damn entertaining.
    Thanks for coming to the gig too!

  2. That's OK, Jeff, looks like our choices (bad or not) cancel each other out. I say we're even.

    Sorry again for all the coughing. I loved Ellen's piccolo playing. Still considering checking her out for lessons or something. She seems fun!

  3. I'm going to cop to loving the smell of bookstore. :)