Monday, November 26, 2007

Are You Ready for Christmas?

Restocking after the Thanksgiving weekend rush wasn't nearly as difficult as I had hoped. There were a few titles that we were low on, including a complete sell out of the humorously provocative Year of Living Biblically by the literary stuntman A.J. Jacobs. Jacobs, who read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica for his previous book The Know It All, spent a year trying to live by every tenant in the Bible, no matter how obscure. He didn't mix wool with linen, ate crickets and wouldn't say the days of the week for fear of uttering the names of Pagan Gods. Jacobs doesn't make any direct connections to the religious right, but it's hard not to think of the fundamentalist Christians, and how far they have yet to go in their misbegotten quest to take the Bible literally.

Unfortunately, the real story of my morning was the not surprising discovery that very few titles were moving as quickly as I had hoped. For all the early momentum Stephen Colbert enjoyed, his I am America (And So Can You) really floundered over the weekend. Due to the writer's strike, The Colbert Report is on hiatus and this book simply is not getting the nightly jolt in the arm that it needs. I hereby invite Colbert to come to Boulder. If he comes, I promise we will pack the venue no matter how short the notice. Another funny man, Steve Martin just released his biography Born Standing Up: A Comics Life. It sold moderately well last week, but not like you'd expect one of the hottest books of the season to perform. It's still early, and judging by the excerpts I read, Martin's storytelling doesn't disappoint. His tales of trying to make it as a stand up comedian in the 1960s and 70s make for interesting reading and illuminates a particular moment in our culture, reminding me a bit of Bob Dylan's Chronicles: Volume 1. Hey Mr. Tambourine Man when will you release Volume 2? We sure could use it.

I spoke with a few reps and most of them still weren't too excited about the season. My HarperCollins rep made a thoughtful and somewhat self-serving observation on this season's weak fiction list. Since Penguin has decided not to release Geraldine Brooks' new book until January, perhaps that leaves Harpers Run by Ann Patchett, as the easiest novel to hand sell to 35-and-over women this season. Patchett's book is performing solidly and the floor staff needs a familiar author with a well-received novel to place in the hands of that demographic, which is only about 70% of our market. Patchett fits the bill. Maybe at tomorrow's all-staff meeting we can practice saying, "if you liked Bel Canto, you'll love..."

The all-staff Christmas meetings are tomorrow and Wednesday. We have two every year, a morning and afternoon affair to try and accommodate every one's schedule. We go over some of the basics of book selling during the holidays such as don't come to work hungover, answer the phones, and catch the thieves. About a dozen years ago we finally cut out the part about not coming into work stoned. With the tech boom, Boulder had finally gone yuppie enough that people coming into work high wasn't that big of a problem any more.

One of the main things we go over every year is watching out for scam artists. People love to try the quick change maneuver on a clerk. If you aren't careful, it is easy to get confused. Every year we seem to have someone who gives out change for a $50 or $100 bill, when all they ended up with was a $20 bill. When I was at the register on Saturday, I got a chance to use the special pens we have to show whether a bill is counterfeit or not. I drew the line on the bill and realized I didn't know what color it was supposed to turn if it was counterfeit. The line stayed a yellowish brown and as I was debating on whether or not to call 911 for backup, the customer leaned over the counter to assure me that it was a good bill. I checked with our supervisor who told me black is bad.

The sad thing about these all-store affairs, is that a dozen years ago when we held these meetings we were at the threshold of utter chaos in the store. Business would soar and customers would cram our aisles starting right after Thanksgiving. We had to warn the staff about how busy and insane things would be. We have a whole section during the meeting about taking enough vitamins, drinking enough fluid, getting a full night's sleep. It's like we are training them for a marathon. Well, about 10 years ago we were.

Nowadays, business improves gradually but the insanity doesn't really start until December 15. Even then, it's not like the heydays of the late 1990s. It's just a neighborly 5k road race that any jogger can run in now. With the economy creeping along like it is now, is it any wonder Hillary Clinton leads in the polls? She just needs to pull Bill along on every campaign stop she makes in one of those harnesses moms use on their kids in the mall, so the voters are constantly reminded of how much better things were just eight years ago. Funny, things didn't seem so great at the time.

1 comment:

Bob Finn said...

Hey Arsen,

I'm guessing that Jacobs didn't really attempt to live by every tenant in the Bible. How many renters are there in the Bible anyway?

If they followed the tenet "Jesus saves, Moses invests," most Biblical characters would have owned. And in any case by now they've vacated the premises.

Bob