There is a mysterious race living among us. They walk among us, communicate with us, replicate our emotions so well that we are tempted to believe they are one of us. No one knows whether they are aliens, cryptids, or plane-walkers. The one thing we know is that they are essentially, fundamentally different to us.
This enigmatic kind is known as booksellers.
What’s more: I’ll admit to being one of them.
We are everywhere. When you enter a bookshop, there we are. When you go into a library, there we are. When you go to a signing or a book launch of your favourite author, there we are. We look exactly like you, except for one little detail:
We have a lanyard around our necks.
We are one of the most elusive yet fascinating species in existence. Here is how to tell us apart.
Yes, this guy is actually me
1. WE ARE BROKE
This is not because bookselling pays particularly badly. Don’t get me wrong, it does, but this is a vocational job you do because you love it. But the reason why the standard bookseller has less money in their pockets than time to advance through their TBR pile is because we spent it all on books. You think it’s difficult to resist the urge to buy books whenever you enter a bookshop? Try spending 8 to 9 hours there a day. We all succumb.
We all succumb.
2. WE CAN RECOMMEND BOOKS WE HAVE NEVER READ
When a customer comes and asks for the first time about a book you don’t know about, you try to get out of the predicament as politely as you can. When that happens twice, you start thinking that it would be a good idea to gain a better knowledge of that particular book. By the fifteenth time a customer asks for it, you already know more about than the author themselves.
3. WE CAN GET
This is a photo of a display I made when I was feeling creative.
It was one of the proudest days of my life.
4. WE WORSHIP J.K. ROWLING AS A GODDESS
I don’t care if you’re a bookseller in Britain, France, the Maldives or Kamchatka; chances are that your number 1 bestseller is Harry Potter. As a colleague of mine put it when Very Good Lives came out: “This book is literally going to be putting food in your plate. It will sell enough to pay for your salary for a year!”.
Isn’t it great when the author you admire the most is also your main source of sustenance?
5. WE ARE HAPPY PEOPLE
The point is often made that customer service in bookshops is excellent, and that employees don’t have issues forcing a smile like they do in other businesses (just think how hard smiling is while working at KFC. Believe me, I’m talking from experience). That is because we love what we do. We love books, we know about books, and we would very gladly be doing our jobs for free if it came to that. To be able to live off it is like a dream come true!
6. WE ARE MOSTLY GEEKS
It may come as a surprise—not—, but every time a new Marvel movie comes out, or a Comic Con is in town, or there is a book signing from a YA author, booksellers will flock like gnus. Some friends of mine and I have a regular gaming night every week. And of course, every single one of us will be able to tell you what Hogwarts house we belong to—usually Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff, as I mentioned in an earlier post.
7. WE ARE LIFERS
I find it surprising how many of my colleagues tell me that they’ve been working in our bookshop for 14, 32, or 50 years. Many of them tell me the same story: they started out as part-timers, and now it turns out that they have spent their whole life in Blackwell’s. I haven’t been in many jobs where people stayed for so long, and still didn’t get bored or fed up of their job. Although, two years into my bookselling career, I can definitely see the appeal…
Those are only a few of the signs that distinguish us from the rest of the normal, fully-functional people. Please do let me know if there is anything I have missed! 🙂
Disclaimer: All the images in this post are the property of Miguel Olmedo Morell