(Addendum/Correction: It’s Bookshop Day in the United Kingdom and Ireland. I live in the United States, and until now I was unaware that the U.S. is not observing Bookshop Day on this date. Please accept my apologies. I should have researched this more carefully because the source is an article which originated on the other side of the Atlantic.
Nevertheless, please consider taking a look at the article in The Guardian. A link appears at the end of this post.)
Sadly, it’s unlikely I’ll be participating — that means spending money — in this year’s Bookshop Day, which is today, darn it.
I’ve bought oodles of books in my lifetime, and a long time ago I volunteered in a struggling used bookshop for two years. Someone with that background has earned a pass on today.
I read Sian Cain’s Guardian piece “with interest,” to risk using a cliché. My experience with bookshop weirdness is different from what Ms. Cain describes. Although she suggests the dark comedy which aired on Channel 4 (U.K.), Black Books, wasn’t realistic, I found a kindred spirit in the hapless Manny, portrayed by Bill Bailey on that show.
I worked in the paperback section of a used bookstore in my neighborhood. I wasn’t treated well by very many people, but stayed absorbed in examining, pricing, and organizing books that not everyone wanted to touch. I was told that the owners had a contract with a charity which sold donated books by the pound, in a warehouse that wasn’t too sanitary. I believed it.
I rarely used the facilities in that store because no one cleaned. I thought of offering to clean the restroom, but when I mentioned the possibility to my mother when we spoke on the phone, she said, “But then they’ll expect you to do that all the time.” She was right, so on most days I walked several blocks to my apartment to handle that function and ignored the plumbing fixtures in the bookshop.
When I returned to the store after using the bathroom in my apartment (where it was possible to wash my hands in a clean sink), more often than not I brought rubber bands or other supplies the store needed.
Sometimes I brought damp paper towels in a plastic bag, to clean book covers. You have to be careful with that, and allow the books to air dry completely before shelving them. After being tidied up, a lot of those books weren’t the slightest bit gritty to the touch.
I didn’t want reimbursement for supplies, effort or the general discomfort I had to tolerate. I wanted only respect, and didn’t usually get it.
Some people told me I was the consummate fool for working unsalaried in that store. I disagree. I got to work with books, and that did more than compensate for everything the human element and bizarre microbes could sling at me.
Here’s a link to Sian Cain’s article: