Sunday, November 30, 2008

Coherent Thoughts and Russian Literature

I am finding it difficult to put together a coherent blog post, or even two thoughts, with a newborn in the apartment. She's up at all hours of the night, short-circuiting my brain functions. The problem is compounded because she has also exhausted my muse (her mother). Instead of stepping in and helping me out, the youngster is seemingly unwilling to give me much feedback on my different ideas. The baby apparently has no discernible opinion on the settlement between Google and the publishers, any feelings about the retail holiday season, or a single idea about a book capable of breaking through the economic morass.

I'm left with scattered thoughts and bags under my eyes. Here's a few observations from my last week at the store.

Can the Vampires Save Christmas?

Stephanie Meyer and her vampires have taken over the bookselling world. We don't really have any bestsellers besides for Meyer's Twilight and its sequel New Moon. Since Thanksgiving, I've been asked two questions over and over again: Do we have Stephanie Meyer's books? and What is the combination to our bathroom doors? I'm stupid enough that I approach each customer encounter with eagerness and bated breath (hoping that they will ask me for a suggestion on a great new novel or an idea for what to buy their husband) only to have to point the way to a mass market paperback or curse the owner of the store for putting locks on our customer bathrooms.

The problem with Meyer's vampires is that it doesn't matter how many of these books that we sell because we simply cannot move enough of them at $7.99 or $11.99 to make it a profitable holiday season. Don't get me wrong, I love selling dozens of these books about hunky vampires to young excited readers everyday, I just miss the $35 price tag of Harry Potter. I'm hoping that the collectors edition of Twilight priced at $30 takes off.

It seems that everyone has caught the Meyer fever. A group of young women from the bookstore accompanied the sixth-grade daughter of our children's buyer to the movie Twilight. Their reviews, besides for the middle-schooler, were either tepid or filled with qualifications, but they seemed to thoroughly enjoy the outing. I did find it interesting that a couple of our staff members developed flu-like symptoms within a week.

Customers Concerned About Us

Our business was fairly brisk on the day after Thanksgiving. We were down just a point or two from last year's Black Friday's totals. I found that encouraging. It was fueled largely by tourists in town visiting relatives for the holidays. The regular customers who came in expressed a tremendous level of concern for the store's welfare.

"How are you guys handling the economy?" was the main question I got. When I related to them that we were doing okay until November (one of the worst months in the store's 35-year history), a look of fear interrupted their cheerful countenances. "Surely, people can still afford books," they often respond, patting my hand. I thank them for coming in and then I pitch our January 1st sale.

I'm sure most people in Boulder can still afford books. Home prices haven't really fallen here and foreclosures are almost unheard of, but people's stock portfolios and 401ks must be a little lighter. The truth is, right now no one wants to buy anything including books whether they can afford to or not. Perhaps reminding them of our 25% off sale will induce them to spend a little more money with us.

A Valuable Sense of Community

I've been amazed by the amount of goodwill that I've received since Martina was born. Various members of the bookstore staff brought over dinner every night for a week. My sales reps have sent dozens of cards and many presents. Several customers have stopped me on the sales floor or specifically come in to ask for me and offer congratulations.

We are in a business that truly values people and relationships and for that I am eternally grateful. It's that thought and all of the people who have enriched my life that makes plowing through these tough times bearable.

Don't All Babies Love Russian Novelists?

I haven't quite found my groove yet when it comes to reading books to the baby. She can't really appreciate picture books because as a newborn her vision isn't up to snuff and I can't bring myself to read her silly nursery rhymes when I know that she can't understand the words. Instead, I decided to use the time to read her some great literature. Perhaps, it would somehow sink in.

For a couple of days, I was reading her Richard Yates' Reservation Road, but a tale about suburban angst and relationship disenchantment, regardless of how well it was written, felt inappropriate. We moved on to Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. I was eager to share with her the 2001 translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. We started out great, but by page 12 she was crying every time I stumbled over Stepan Arkadyich's name. Who knows what would have happened had I persisted until Princess Kitty Shcherbatsky entered the text? I might have sent her screaming at the mere mention of Russian literature for the rest of her life.

Instead of reading I tried singing, despite being vocally challenged. I can't carry a tune, and I wouldn't know a key if it was in a dirty diaper. I gave "Rock-a-bye Baby" my all, until I realized on about the 50th time through that it is an atrocious song. Why is the cradle in the tree? Is it war time? Is this some horrible prank? A botched kidnapping, perhaps? Why is it comforting to sing about the cradle (with the baby in it) falling out of the tree?

I never liked the song anyway. Before long, I noticed that I was humming a Clash song that seemed to calm her down. I couldn't remember any words except the three-word refrain, "Drug-stabbing time." Well, that sounded just as soothing as "Rock-a-bye Baby." At least nothing awful is happening to a sleeping infant.


Anonymous said...

I'm so with you on that Rock a bye baby. Awful song.

By the way where'd you get the awesome onesie?

Anonymous said...

looove the onesie. I hope that is on your list of January 1st sale items?

You can read anything to sweet Martina b/c a baby just loves the sound of her parent's voice. so keep Nabokov coming.

It is weird all those baby songs and children tales are all really awful (think the 3 little pigs, Billy goats gruff...).

But a psychoanalyst (Jungian, so she biased) once told me it's really important for children to hear stories in which the powers of evil and good are present and clearly defined.

The amount of evil and torture isn't aimed at trying to terrify one's audience. The aim is to show you can recognize evil and that no matter what the good always wins -- this is what comforts the child. (ambiguity or the good not winning would be the real horror apparently).

No matter how scary or awful the world is out there, the good will always prevail. I thought that was a pretty good explanation (very Zoroastrian!!) so I no longer censor Grimms' or the pigs and so far the kids don't seem paranoid.

sorry about the sleep deprivation. don't expect it to change soon... but you will survive. just think college all nighters! woohoo -- have a sundae!

Katherine Curry said...

Hey Arsen!
A response to your twitter about Scott Spencer...
I was so confused by the book that I developed a theory: it's really a first-person novel about a _dead_ man (or perhaps a dying one). I mean, how else to explain that plot? And did you notice how throughout the novel, people tell him he smells bad? It must be because he's decomposing!
Unfortunately this theory doesn't improve the novel. What a disappointment--how could this be the guy who wrote "Endless Love"?
Congratulations on the baby!
Kate (Burkett) Curry

Crime and Punishment Dostoevsky said...

Hey! Yeah maybe all babies love Russian Literature. Classic books are always a good read. I enjoyed reading your blog. Hope to hear something from you.

Ilene said...

This is fantastic!