Thursday, September 20, 2012

Confessions of the Bookstore Clerks: We Hate What You Read

Posted By on Thu, Sep 20, 2012 at 6:16 AM

bookstore_full.jpg

In our never-ending quest for the unvarnished truth about literature (and all that entails) in Brooklyn, we decided to go straight to the source: the people actually selling us the books. As some of the book world's most important gatekeepers, we looked to some of Brooklyn's finest bookstore staff for an honest take on the good, the bad, and the unstoppable Fifty Shades of Grey juggernaut, and they didn't hold back. Yes, they talk about cats, and no, you shouldn't worry (too much) that they're judging your purchases.

Illustrations Joseph Kaplan




1.jpg

Book Court

If you sell it, who's the prototypical Fifty Shades of Grey buyer in your store?

We've gotten a surprising amount of Bridge-and-Tunnel biddies since the release of Fifty Shades of Grey, but I'm still constantly surprised by how many regulars (usually mid-thirties-and-older women) bashfully buy it.

All time favorite Brooklyn book:

Do short stories count? I've always been obsessed with In Dreams Begin Responsibilities by Delmore Schwartz. Actually, I'm not even sure it explicitly takes place in Brooklyn. I just always pictured the story unfolding in Coney Island or Kensington.

To you, what's the great American novel?

American Pastoral, by Philip Roth. Though, I just started Light in August and I'm thinking it might take the cake.

The relationship of cats to bookstores: discuss.

Book Court used to have a cat. An overweight, incredibly lazy, smelly, but all the same beloved cat named Francis. Francis was an exceptional cat, but I've always been a big advocate of the bookstore dog.

What books make you immediately crush-out on the buyer?

Something by an incredibly inaccessible philosopher... Adorno makes me weak in the knees.

2.jpg

Book Thug Nation / Human Relations:

Have there been any notable changes in demographic and/or buying trends since you first started at the store?

I've been at BTN brick and mortar for almost three years (we turn three on 10/16!), and behind the street table since 2003. Human Relations just opened a month ago and these days I spent most of my time there. As for demographic shifts, yes! The condos have all filled up and each night the water taxis coming from Wall St. dock on North 6th street and release hordes of bankers. I miss the hipsters...

If you sell it, who's the prototypical Fifty Shades of Grey buyer in your store? Notably different from your usual demographic?

Women, the young side of middle age. They usually bring the books to the counter with a giggle and a sometimes a joke about how silly it is that they're buying it. In great Williamsburg tradition most people who buy 50 Shades try to make it clear that their purchase is an ironic one.

What's your all time favorite book?

Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry

All time favorite Brooklyn book:

The Rosy Crucifixion (Sexus, Plexus, Nexus), Henry Miller.

To you, what's the great American novel?

I'll vote for A Fan's Notes by Frederick Exley

The relationship of cats to bookstores: discuss.

I don't like cats but their creepy, anti-social nature does make them a good fit for bookstores.

What books make you immediately scornful of the buyer?

1. Ayn Rand 2. Ayn Rand 3. Paolo Coehlo 4. Carlos Castaneda

What books make you immediately crush-out on the buyer?

1. The Mandarins, Simone de Beauvoir. 2. Anything by Thomas Bernhard 3. A Lover's Discourse, Roland Barthes

What's the bookstore clerk equivalent of spitting in the food of a difficult customer?

Different assholes require different tactics. The silent treatment, belittling or violence can all work. At the very least they don't get a bookmark or a bag.

3.jpg

Community Bookstore:

If you sell it, who's the prototypical Fifty Shades of Grey buyer in your store?

We will special order the book for anyone who asks, but we actually don’t stock Fifty Shades of Grey.

All time favorite Brooklyn book:

I realize this is a cliché, but A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was one of the first “adult” books I read as a kid, so that will always be a personal favorite.

To you, what's the great American novel?

Tinkers by Paul Harding. I realize the typical idea of the great American novel is a sprawling, epic, all-encompassing book, and this book is certainly NOT that, but Harding manages to say so much about the human (and American) experience in few pages. That’s far more impressive to me. It’s harder to write precisely.

The relationship of cats to bookstores: discuss.

Every bookstore should have a cat. I’ve worked in three other bookstores before Community, and none of them had a cat. Tiny is secretly (or not so secretly) our boss.

What books make you immediately scornful of the buyer?

I usually try to not judge what other people read. People are looking to get different experiences out of books. Some people turn to books just to be entertained. If that means they want to read Fifty Shades of Grey, so be it. At least they’re reading. My job as an indie bookseller is to steer readers towards more books that they might enjoy. The best is when you can get someone who normally only reads one genre to try another genre.

What books make you immediately crush-out on the buyer?

Anyone who buys The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa, Bluets by Maggie Nelson, Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith, or Proust will immediately win my respect.

4.jpg

Molasses

What's your all time favorite book?

The Journal of Albion Moonlight by Kenneth Patchen.

All time favorite Brooklyn book?

Even when Henry Miller is living in & writing about Paris I feel like I'm reading it through the prism of old world Brooklyn. Maybe Black Spring or The Cosmological Eye. The new young people of Williamsburg should aim to live and make work as free, lusty, spiritual, bawdy and poetic as did he. The rents often make this difficult now. We ought to at least learn how to get invited to as many free dinners.

Worst Brooklyn book?

I never read that book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn but I hate how often it's title is used as a pun in shitty newspapers. Like "A Bookstore Grows in Brooklyn" or "A Condo Grows in Brooklyn". I think that one free newspaper that consists of virtually nothing but photos of Marty Markowitz shaking hands with people does this in almost every issue.

To you, what's the great American novel?

The New York Post. I also think that Infinite Jest may have pressed reset on the definition of the G.A.N.

Are you a writer? If not, do you have a side gig besides the bookstore?

Yes. I write under the nom de plume Hen Win and have multiple great American somethings in a milkcrate beneath my bed.

What books make you immediately crush-out on the buyer?

I fall in and out of love about twenty times a day lately. This morning, however, a young mother came in pushing a stroller and walked out with Anais Nin's dirty Delta of Venus which I thought was kind of hot.

What's the bookstore clerk equivalent of spitting in the food of a difficult customer?

Spitting in their book.

5.jpg

Word Bookstore

If you sell it, who's the prototypical Fifty Shades of Grey buyer in your store?

The brunch crowd was really into Fifty Shades of Grey, which was awesome because it brought new people into the store. And a ton of our regulars read it as well—that book just skipped right across demographics like they didn't even exist.

What's your all time favorite book?

I don't know how anyone can pick just one, honestly, but at the top of the list is Nick Harkaway's The Gone-Away World. Very few people could pull of an apocalypse novel in which the weapons hinge on a philosophical concept (and which also includes ninjas), and yet he somehow managed it.

All time favorite Brooklyn book:

I really loved Haley Tanner's book Vaclav & Lena, which counts twice— it takes place in Brooklyn and she lives near the store.

Are you a writer? If not, do you have a side gig besides the bookstore?

Nope, I'm a born reader/recommender. I do some freelance (mostly data entry and book reviews) as well.

The relationship of cats to bookstores: discuss.

Cats and bookstores have a long history. On the one hand, a lot of people expect it. It's part of that stereotype of the bookstore as cozy and stuffed with books. On the other hand, a lot of people are allergic. I once worked for a bookstore that had been open for over 30 years. In the first 10 years of being open, they had a cat. After that cat died, they never got a new one, but a decade later people still would say "Oh, I can't go there, they have a cat." We were pretty sure the dander was all gone by that point, though.

6.jpg

Greenlight Bookstore

What's your all time favorite book?

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. I've never been so afraid of my own apartment before, not counting that one time I got bedbugs.

All time favorite Brooklyn book?

I'm pretty fond of the one and only Jon Sands.

Worst Brooklyn book?

All the ones that haven't been written yet. Get on that!

To you, what's the great American novel?

The Great Gatsby. Gosh, did it get me excited to grow up!

Are you a writer? If not, do you have a side gig besides the bookstore?

I write short stories on the side about gangsters, lawyers, elves, and zombie survivors in love. Not all in one story, of course. I also have been playing World of Warcraft for the past 7 years. I think we can call that a disorder at this point.

The relationship of cats to bookstores: discuss.

They're the gatekeepers. The Merovingian in the bookstore Matrix.

7.jpg

Book Court

If you sell it, who's the prototypical 50 Shades of Grey buyer in your store? Notably different from your usual demographic?

Mostly woman, in their 30s, 40s, 50s, though I have sold it to a few men "who are picking it up for their wives." Pretty much everyone who buys Fifty Shades will also buy other books and wedge it between those other books so when they walk around the store it's less obvious.

What's your all time favorite book?

Too hard to answer. John Williams's Stoner is the best thing that I (and most of the people who work with me) have read this past year). It's just solid from start to finish.

All time favorite Brooklyn book:

Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr. It's seedy and sick and brilliant and I love every part of it.

Worst Brooklyn book?

It's not really about Brooklyn, but I'm sick of selling Goodnight, New York City (a rip off from Goodnight, Moon) cause it looks dumb.

What books make you immediately scornful of the buyer?

Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back. And travel guides.

What books make you immediately crush-out on the buyer?

Comic books.

What's the bookstore clerk equivalent of spitting in the food of a difficult customer?

We gift wrap, so if you're a jerk I will wrap your books poorly and won't use ribbon.

8.jpg

P.S. Bookshop

How long have you been in the store, and have there been any notable changes in demographic and/or buying trends since you first started?

At the store, four years. In the used book business in NY, almost 10 years. Although we're primarily a second-hand bookstore, the steep rise in tourist traffic over the past three years has prompted us to carry more NY-based books of all sorts—novels, photography, history. Brooklyn, grafitti art, architecture and the subway are hot topics. We sell a lot of post cards.

If you sell it, who's the prototypical Fifty Shades of Grey buyer in your store? Notably different from the rest of your average demographic?

Women, all sorts. Since we've started stocking the series I've only sold two books to a man, and it was the same man.

The relationship of cats to bookstores: discuss.

A cliche. People who ask if we have a store cat tend to be the same people who exclaim loudly as they come in that the store smells like books.

What books make you immediately skeptical of the buyer?

Conspiracy theories. Heartwarming true stories about pets, psychics or pet psychics. 80s diet books. 90s travel guides. Books so decrepit they should clearly have been tossed—moldy, smelly, pages loose, covers torn. Books packed in such a way as to guarantee maximum damage in transit to the store.

What books make you immediately crush-out on the buyer?

A collection that shows passionate and/or varied interests (tree houses, snowshoeing, traffic engineering, cupping, whatever), or a loyal adherence to and deep knowledge of a particular genre/movement (pulps, mysteries, sci-fi, Oulipo, 19th-century travel guides).

What's the bookstore clerk equivalent of spitting in the food of a difficult customer?

Breezy, impersonal politeness.

Tags: , , , , , ,

More by Virginia K. Smith

Readers also liked…

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

About The Author

Virginia K. Smith

Virginia K. Smith

Bio:
Virginia K. Smith is the Assistant Editor at The L Magazine and a Bushwick resident. Her profile picture was taken at Summerscreen, because she is a real team player.

© 2014 The L Magazine
Website powered by Foundation