Sunday, December 16, 2007

Finally, The Shopping Begins

The shoppers were as scarce as the snow flakes were abundant during the first dozen days of December, sending me and the other employees of The Boulder Book Store into a near panic. On Saturday, the skies finally cleared, and the customers descended upon the store with book review newspaper clippings in hand. Will it be enough to make up for a slow December that was barely on pace to match our August sales? Only time will tell. If the sun keeps shining (like it did in August) there is always hope.

The customers' book requests were eclectic, to say the least, but two books rose above the muck and were in heavy demand yesterday. The Financial Wisdom of Ebenezer Scrooge and The Brain that Changes Itself were both on many people's lists. The bookstore was unable to satisfy their desires on either count. The Scrooge book is published by Health Communications, a small outfit in Florida, more known for their weightlifting series than their financial acumen. We had a few special orders for the book right after Thanksgiving, and in desperation of finding a hot title, we ordered in fifteen copies. By the time this order arrived, however, more special orders had come in, and there was only one copy left to put out on the shelf.

The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge has been a hot title for months. Brain science is always a strong seller in Boulder, and any new information on brain trauma is bound to appeal to our large market of therapists. In fact, based on the number of therapists working with brain trauma patients, I'd guess the ratio in Boulder would be five therapists for every one brain injury victim. We have stocked Doidge's book aggressively since its release, and we have several copies of the hardback in. The problem is that Penguin has released it in paperback, but despite a large order, we haven't gotten our books in yet. The official release date is December 18, but that hasn't stopped Penguin from getting it to our local Borders.

After the third customer requested the title and wouldn't take a discounted hardback, I ran down to shipping & receiving. I searched, but couldn't find any unopened Penguin boxes -- they just haven't managed to get it to us yet. The joys of being an independent store away from the power center of the east coast. We are the second-best-selling store in the country on this title, according to a national website we subscribe to, but that's not enough for Penguin to make sure we get our books on time and spare me the embarrassment of being compared negatively to Borders. Thanks Penguin.

There you have two of the hottest Christmas titles of 2007: one on brain trauma recovery and the other on how to overcome a dysfunctional relationship with money according to A Christmas Carol. Why, oh why, didn't I foresee this?
When the Christmas shopping begins in earnest, we get hundreds of confused customers who have never been to our store, or haven't ventured in since the last holiday. They are being forced through our doors, often against their better judgment, to shop for friends or relatives that might actually want a book. People are disoriented and completely out of their element. They are searching for sections that don't exist, getting lost in the store's labyrinthine basement, asking about books when they don't know the title, the author or even what show they might have heard it mentioned on. (NPR? Good Morning America? Oprah?)

Here are my favorite requests from yesterday:
"Where is your napkin folding section?"
"I can't find any books on Asheville, North Carolina. Don't you have any? It's very beautiful there."
"Where are books on Christianity?" (After I point them to the two cases of our Christianity section, they look at me in disbelief.) "You have a whole section? Who would have thought that in Boulder?"

A Tale of Two Parties

I attended my first two parties of the holiday season over the weekend and was shocked by the literary conversations at each of them for completely different reasons. At the first party, my wife and I were in a hideous martini bar celebrating the birthday of a friend. It wasn't really the place to expect an intellectual conversation. Once my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I realized it was a total pick-up joint, blasting bad 1980s music. The waitresses, who apparently are also featured on a company calendar that's advertised as you enter the men's room, seemed to be in a cleavage competition.
As the night wore on, we got into an amiable conversation with an intelligent, well-travelled and seemingly cultured woman. When I told her what I do for a living, she responded, "Oh, I don't read." When I looked at her in shock, she added, "On vacation I might read a book or two." I asked her, "How do you fall asleep? Don't you have a book beside the bed?" She laughed and said, "As soon as my head hits the pillow, I'm out." She and my wife and continued conversing, and I tried to join in, but the whole time I was thinking about how this bright, articulate woman -- a liberal arts graduate, I might add -- didn't have a need for books in her life.

At the second party, a white elephant affair, I had the completely opposite experience. I was frankly out of my depths with the literary conversation. After the presents were divvied up -- I ended up with a small foam figurine of the Geico lizard, and my wife snagged some candy cane pajamas -- the party broke into a few different groups. I was surrounded by poets, and the talk turned to the state of poetry in our region. I was amazed as names were dropped that I had never heard of, despite buying books professionally for 11 years, and car-pool arrangements were proposed to see poetry readings in Fort Collins, about 40 miles away, in the dead of winter. It was an impressive dedication to the craft of poetry. It reminded me of how much I worship baseball and a good lefthanded pitcher.

As we were driving away, my wife observed, "That was the closest thing to a hipster crowd that I've seen since leaving D.C." I was surprised -- it hadn't occurred to me that they were hip. I mean, is there anything more nerdy than liking poetry to the point of an obsession? After all, I only read it casually compared to these party-goers, and it's one of the things that makes me profoundly unhip. A few dozen more people like them and there might still be hope for poetry yet.

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