Our Reading Lives

What I Miss About Being a Bookseller

As someone who loves to read, having a job as a bookseller was pretty much the perfect job…most of the time. I was lucky enough to work at two independent bookstores; one in North Carolina, and one in Manhattan. They were very different from each other, but both have been places I’ve loved to visit and return to, and I’ve built lasting friendships from each.

When I left each job, it was hard. I quickly realized how much I missed it. Life isn’t the same when you’re used to being a bookseller, and then all of a sudden, you’re not — it really is a world of its own. Here are some things I miss about it:

What? You mean I have to actually buy books now? One of the perks of working in a bookstore is, of course, all the ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) you get/have access to. Publishers send books to you to read/review, and then recommend to customers. There would be shelves and shelves of ARCs – some old, most of them new – and I was in heaven. I never had to buy books, because I always had stacks and stacks of ARCs from the store, ready to read. And if I had to buy a book, well, there was my handy-dandy employee discount.

Damn, Publisher’s Weekly is expensive! PW, that weekly magazine for booksellers and literary people, is super expensive (ie, NOT the normal magazine subscription price – more like 3-4 times that) to subscribe to as a “regular” person. As a bookseller, I got to read the store’s copy for free – and learn about book deals, upcoming books, read reviews and interviews….I still miss it. It hurts my heart to think of issues of PW just sitting around, not being read.

I miss meeting authors. As a reader and writer, a huge perk of working at bookstores was getting to meet authors at events, hear them talk, and getting to talk with them about their process or just getting to chat with them as a person. Granted, it’s still possible to do this by going to a bookstore event, and I did this during my MFA program, but it’s not the same.

I miss the smell of books and paper. Do I have to elaborate? The smell of stacks of books, fresh ink – you know what I’m talking about.

Who am I going to talk books with now? During every shift, I was surrounded by people who loved books as much as I did. We would talk about authors, who got what book deal, what we were reading, what we wanted to read, what we thought the other had to read — basically everything about books. Being able to chat with others who were as fanatical as me about reading was a balm to the soul. I mean, who else can understand carrying at least 3 books in your bag at all times? Exactly.

Of course, there are some things I don’t miss about it….like wrapping gifts. There was that woman who told me that my wrap job looked “like a tumor.” (In my defense, the toy I was wrapping was unevenly shaped and there really was no good way to wrap it nicely). I don’t miss the people who would come in and say things like, “I’m looking for that book by that woman author – you know, with the blue cover, it came out last year…” and then get furious with me when I didn’t immediately know who they were talking about. But really, those were minor things.

Have you ever worked in a bookstore? Do you miss it? What were your favorite things?