Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Books will never Die!

This is the prologue to "Cure for Crazy" which is going to be a collection of the craziest stories i have heard/been a part of in my time working for Barnes and Noble

There are those who say that Books are a dying breed, and to them I have only one thing to say: Your Crazy. Sure, it might be slightly techno-phobic of myself to cling to the leaflets and notebooks of my past, but I still do it with pride. I collect pens and pencils now like they are pieces of the Ark of the Covenant. I keep every magazine and every hand written letter or post-card in the hopes of one day discovering them and proving to my grandchildren that mail used to be delivered by an actual person. In this vision of the future I see me sitting in my rocking chair reading a newspaper, but as time has gone on the newspaper has begun to fade from the fantasy. Instead it is replaced with a book, any of the Harry Potter books to be precise. I can see myself in the future reading the stories to my children, and letting them touch the book itself and see the Special British edition I imported for far too much money. I look forward to this shared experience, to being able to make a physical connection with a memory from my past while creating a new one in the minds of my imaginary grandchildren. The physical embodiment of memory is something that the digital age will never be able to capture, nor should it try. A book can have a life story separate from the one contained within the text. Where did it come from? How did it get that crease in the binding? Is that a coffee stain inside the front cover or an image of the Virgin Mary? Thousands of questions that can never be asked of a blog, facebook update or tweet.

As a reluctant environmentalist I have to admit I see the benefits of digitizing printed works, but at what loss of character? What part of ourselves do we have to give up in order to maintain the status quo? More and more often today we give up what is real in favor of the artificial, with social networking tools helping us stay connected while staying away. It is also through tools like Twitter and Myspace that we are able to connect with people of similar interests, with similar backgrounds and stories. And in doing so myself I have begun to realize that bookseller has been replaced in the digital world by the search engine. There is a third party involved in the book purchasing process in the material world. Or course there is the author and his or her publisher who create the text and send it out into the hands of those who wish to purchase it. In between that connection however is the third party of the bookseller, a book Butler now replaced by Jeeves and Bing.

In the material world it is the seller who makes the union between two like minded thinkers possible, or between two people with the same passions and creative dreams. It is also possible for a bookseller to steer someone’s life in the completely wrong direction resulting in catastrophe for the reader. As a matter of fact when dealing with issues like family emergencies, loss, troubled relationships and trying to fall in love, the bookseller actually has more power than the author themselves. All they have to do is lead someone in the right direction and tell them “I think this will help”. It is that personal touch, that ability to lift someone’s spirits, only to potentially crush them if the text doesn’t 100% meet the needs of the reader, that separates a bookseller from a search engine. Despite the number of online shoppers who search constantly for books, there is always a special difference between the Jeeves of and the Jon of Barnes and Noble. I have worked at Barnes and Noble for more than 6 years now and in that time I have seen and heard the most outrageous stories. All revolving a form many believe to be dying, and it is for this reason I put these stories down on paper (and digital, just to be safe) to preserve the memory of what could be a lost art. This collection of stories is about the art of being a Bookseller, what it means to have that level of personal effect on a customer’s life. To lead someone through troubled times merely with a book suggestion, or to outrage a customer by suggesting a liberal biased book when the are a conservative. These are the stories of customers who are not afraid to ask where the Self-help section is, and of the booksellers unafraid to say to them “Doesn’t it defeat the purpose of self-help if I tell you?”

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