After graduating high school, as you know, I went West. I attended the University of Toronto after that experience, and then went West again. But a number of you will know me specifically from the next portion of my life: Chapters Peterborough.
I’d been looking for work for a few months when I received a callback from Chapters. My morale was at an all-time low, and I really had no inkling that this new possibility would pan out. I remember arriving in my parents’ car, literally trembling with apprehension- can you imagine that? I have some of Dad’s working blood in me, I guess, and was feeling pretty deprived and discouraged by then.
In any case, I went in and sat down with Barb. Now here’s a funny thing about Chapters- we all know that bosses are a real drag, am I right? They exist to ruin the fun and drag our feelings over the coals. This was a general belief I was happy to go along with, anyways, until I began to get a sense of how this new job was going to shape up. Barb was compassionate in my time of misery, and for that I never forgot to thank her on a regular basis. She saw through the deer in the headlights and saw a capable employee, and, possibly, a good sort of guy.
So I got my second interview. This time it was with Tom, a man whose love of the Beatles was equalled only by his apparently equal love for humanity in general. Either that, or he made an awful good show of pretending. I was given a psych evaluation- the first time I’d done anything like that for a job. The results indicated that while I was certainly a borderline sociopath, I was also a very promising salesperson. So that was that.
Tom always wore a set of keys on his belt. They jingled like a cheerful but businesslike elf wherever he went, and I always had time to put down whatever book I was reading before he came around the corner. I loved that about the job, by the way- yes, Tom, of course, but also the books. Selling books means a good working knowledge of them is valuable indeed. I read constantly in any case, but never had I felt so externally motivated to pursue my interest.
In this workplace I enjoyed working with customers as I never have anywhere else. I took full advantage of my specific preferences to push the product in a way that made sense to me. I had some customers who would come back month after month, seeking me out to follow up on the last computer help book I’d recommended, or to get a new set of recommendations. On a less honorable note, I loved to mess with the poor unwitting fools coming in for an easy book report read. “It’s a pretty simple read,” I would say as I handed them Crime and Punishment. “Don’t be fooled by its size. It’s about growing up and dealing with guilt.”
I worked mostly in Fiction, and also sometimes in Kids- where my future wife was queen. I did Magazines for a while, and tried my hand at Receiving. There wasn’t one area I didn’t enjoy in its own capacity. I was always trying to improve and expand, bringing in my own personal material resources to guarantee the best result. I applied Arnold’s action-oriented ideology every day, although I regret that I may have stepped on a few brittle toes in the process.
Bookselling is a rewarding and slightly frightening business. Rewarding, because you get to play a vital role in the heart the North American tradition of literacy. Frightening, because you see just what people like to read. I mean, there’s as much trash on a given shelf as there is worthy print- but it’s the grime that a scary number of people prefer. Who am I to judge?- obviously- but I’d be surprised if very many people would adamantly disagree with me on this point.
Books will be around for a while. I know there’s a lot of hype surrounding e-readers- and I don’t mind. I’m all about technological innovation. But as far as collectible items, as far as aesthetics, as far as tradition, books have a staying power we shouldn’t underestimate.
As you well know, and as I alluded, this was also the place from which my new and current romance blossomed. More on that another time, naturally! In the meantime, though, here are some of the highlights of what I read while or soon after being employed at the House of Words–
Sartoris, Faulkner. Beautiful ironies, dusky romances, tender portraits of men and women laden with the futile motivations common to mankind.
The Once and Future King, White. An experience in altered perspective. As the characters grow up, so does the content and presentation. From innocence to a more textured- and darker- tone, it all comes crashing to a terribly modern, but not devastating, point.
Chronopolis, Ballard. A fine cross-section of a very distinctive body of work. Ballard’s fascinations with time and evolution are mine also- and his imaginative explorations of these and lesser themes are far reaching and colorful.
The Devils of Loudun, Huxley. Massive breadth, satisfying depth, and a staggering collection of historical, psychological and philosophical adjuncts. Huxley makes the most of his impressive ability with language and sense of placement.
Man and His Symbols, Jung. Several contributors worked closely in conjunction with one another, a great situation for dealing with material of this density. Each is an expert in the field, each from a differing angle, and each with personal ties of some nature. Lots of personality.
The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald. A creature totally distinct from Gatsby. Crippling satire in almost cartoon color, but do I detect a stronger note of emotional autobiography? Razor-fine line between realism and romance.