Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Saddest Return of the Day

A slender young woman, with long auburn hair, wearing a light yellow sweater, came up to the counter with a book. It was The Best Baby Names Treasury by Emily Larson.

        The The Best Baby Names Treasury

"I lost the baby, so I won't be needing this. I was hoping to be able to return it," she said, matter-of-factly. I could see the receipt sticking out of the pages of the book.

"I'm so sorry. Yes, of course, no problem at all," I said, glad that there was a receipt, making the return an easy one.

"My mother gave the book to me. Here's the receipt."

"Great, no problem, here you go," I said, giving her her money back. She didn't say another word as she walked out of the store.

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

In Favor of Gift Receipts

I am not completely looking forward to how work is going to be today, on this day after Christmas.

We are having a clearance sale, and that is fine. People will be coming in to use their gift cards and that is also fine. People will also be coming in to return or exchange gifts they received that they don't want. Many of them will not have a receipt of any kind. And that's where the dreading comes in.

Our store policy is that we can't take anything back without a receipt (gift or original) or some way to track the transaction, such as the credit card used for purchase. So after Christmas, WE'RE the ones who get to tell the recipient who is not happy with their gift that we can't take back the item because there is no receipt of any kind or way to track the purchase. So the recipient is stuck with something they don't want and won't read.

Instead of being frustrated at the gift giver, they are frustrated at us, because of our policy and because their item did not have a gift receipt.

For weeks before the holiday, we ask customers on every transaction if they would like gift receipts for the items they are purchasing.

People seem to be in two camps about whether to get gift receipts or not. Some people say yes, they would like gift receipts because they know that the recipient may already HAVE the item, OR that the the recipient may want to exchange it for something they'd like better.

Other people, however, say "They'll just have to like it!", or "I guess they'll have to keep it then, won't they?", seemingly determined to get them something they feel that they should have.

I understand that sentiment. HOWEVER, it doesn't really take into account the recipient.

I wish everyone would get and use gift receipts for the gifts they give. The person you are giving to might already have the item you're getting them. Or they might not want it. And that's okay, you did the best you could. Let them get something they do want and will enjoy. Because that's the goal, isn't it? For them to be happy? And to have good thoughts of whomever gave them the gift?

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Differences of Opinion and A Weighty Matter

A woman with short gray hair came up to the counter with a book.

"My husband is SUCH a narrow-minded conservative! I can't reason with that man. I don't even want him to turn on the news any more, especially if Sarah Palin is on it." She paused, sighing."Do you have The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism? I think he should read it. No, he needs to read it."

               The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism: A Short History

I checked the inventory. "No, I'm sorry, we don't have it in. I could order it for you, if you'd like."

"No, that's all right. I'll find something else. I just want to get him to THINK about things, he gets so stuck in his ideas! And he thinks Sarah Palin is completely ready to be president! Oh, we go around and around about that one. I can't believe he even thinks that way. The arguments we have!"

"It sounds like it. Anything else I can help you with today?", I said.

"I'll just get this." She sounded resigned. "HE'LL love it. It's right up his alley. It'll just give us more to argue about." She sighed.

               48 Liberal Lies About American History: (That You Probably Learned in School)

"Well, thanks for shopping with us. Have a good day. Good luck at home.", I said.

"Oh yeah, it'll be great.", she said, smiling and waving and shaking her head.


An older woman, wearing a brown sweater and jeans came up to the counter. She was breathing heavily. In her arms was a cardboard mailing package. She heaved it onto the counter.

"I have a return. I ordered this online and I need to return it." She pulled a hardcover copy of Tom Clancy's new book, Dead or Alive out of the mailer.

"Sure, no problem. Is there anything wrong with it?", I ask (just in case there are pages missing and we need to send it back to the publisher instead of putting it on the shelf.)

"Well, yeah, 950 pages is wrong with it! I can't even hardly lift this thing. Even before this one I thought Tom Clancy's books were a little long...but THIS one..." She shook her head, and smiled too. "I just don't want it."

I laughed. "Sure, we can return it. No problem."

               Dead or Alive (Jack Ryan)

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Lit by Mary Karr

Lit: A Memoir (P.S.) Lit is a book I've been saving to savor. One that I've had on my TBR (To Be Read) shelf for a few months and always had an awareness of. I thought of it as a "fall back book". I do that with books that I think will be a good fit for me. Not wanting to gobble them all at once, I hoard them on an antique legal bookcase awaiting the day that I need a book I have already decided is something I'll enjoy. It is three wonderful shelves of books that I have already "picked" from the thousands and thousands available. They are my chosen.
I read lots of books about addiction and many of them are among my favorite all time books:

Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp, Drinking: A Love Story

Beautiful Boy by David Sheff, Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction

and Dry by Augusten Burroughs, Dry. are just a few that I found both exceptionally moving and well written.

Lit comes with great credentials: The New York Times Book Review named it one of TEN best books and numerous other major newspapers gave it the distinction of "Best Book of the Year". It was a National Book Critics Circle Finalist.

I am not a professional reviewer, nor critic: I am a lover of Books. I worship the perfect sentence as it stops me dead in my tracks with amazement. I read with gusto and do not understand people who cannot tell you what book they are reading RIGHT NOW. (I suppose I was just issuing a disclaimer on anything I was about to write that wasn't seen as totally positive about a book that gets the big "thumbs up" from many people who actually do this for a living.)

Mary Karr is a good writer. As noted above, I am often amazed at the way she can coax a sentence into saying far more than the words themselves. Of that there is no question.

So, then I am left with why I struggled so much with her highly recommended and well written memoir and I keep coming back to the beginning. Before the book truly even begins there is a prologue called, "Open Letter to My Son". And although the first sentence grabs me, "And way I tell this is a lie...", I never find a way to figure out or make peace with why the letter had to be there in the first place. I'm guessing amends have been made and conversations levied about everything broached in that letter and I kept thinking that it was not only unnecessary but a public display of something that seems better private. IMHO. Again, not professional.

What I liked about the book, and why I kept reading even though I kept telling Bibliophile I wasn't sure I would finish it, was the way she wrote about family and the way she came to peace with both their brokenness and her own. After the death of her Father from Alcoholism and the recovery of her Mother, she writes about the Family Tradition of Alcoholism and how she takes up it's mantle:

And that's how - in some cosmic accounting of our family's dipsomania - Mother's recovery dovetailed with the start of my own years' long binge, for from that day forward, I drank in increasing amounts, as if our gene pool owed the universe at least one worthless drunk at a time.

Ms. Karr's descriptions of her dive into her gene pool rivals that of many of her memoir writing peers with extra cringing added to the parts of the story that involve her young son's witness of this reverse, two and a half pike with a twist. I feel it bears repeating that I like her writing and I felt that it strengthened as the book continued with the exception of the account of her marriage with Warren and how it ended. The book feels mainly about other relationships in her life: with her son, her sister, her parents, and the countless friends who held her hand during the walk to recovery. The marriage felt strangely absent from the pages but still concluded with strong enough writing that I accepted what had previously seem sparse.

The marriage had become nights on end of cordial agony. In the two years since I've gotten sober, Warren and I have alternately clung to or given room to each other till - over a tense series of months - we can no longer hold on...I don't want to rehash the times we wooed each other again and the times we withdrew, or the million fights we had. The truth is, as noted, we're inclined to gloss over our failures.

After Mary Karr quits drinking and begins her search for what will keep her not just abstaining from drink, but sober, it feels like she almost apologizes for taking up the 12 step mantra that you must have a higher power whom you pray to. I found no need to explain or even faintly apologize for the way she sought and found God in her life and indeed that was the most powerful part of the book for me. Mary is talking to one of her mentor's who asks her "What is God's dream for you?" She describes this as rather a turning point when she can see beyond those commanding, restrictive words of "God's Will" or "God's plan" for you. I agree.

It is in those moments of Mary's coming to believe that a higher power could restore her sanity that I began to find the book that I had been keeping on a shelf to savor.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Good Recommendation

During the holidays, many people ask us to recommend a book for their (insert various relative here - uncle, grandmother, nephew), most of whom they don't know very well. This makes it hard for THEM to pick and hard for us as well. We've never met them, and books are so personal. It often feels like a stab in the dark.

Occasionally, though, I feel as though I can make a good recommendation...

A young woman in her 20's, lots of long dark hair, wearing a black wool coat, came in and put down a copy of Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris.

Me Talk Pretty One Day

"Do you know anything about this book?", she asked. "My Mom read it and she liked it..."

"Oh yes, I love this book. This is probably one of my favorites of his."

"What's it about?", she asked.

"He writes books about his own life. The title of this one comes from when he was a child and had to go to speech therapy. And you know how that is, you're singled out as a kid, everyone knows you're going to a 'special' class, it's not a good thing. David Sedaris makes it hilarious and touching."

"I'm trying to figure out what to get my friend. She's really smart and I think she'd like this, I just don't know."

"Well, I think that's a good choice...he does have another that I really like too, a more recent one, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, which is about his attempt to quit smoking."

"My friend smokes! That might be great for her!", she said.

I laughed. "He writes about living somewhere else for a while during the time he's trying to quit. His thinking is that when you are trying to change a habit, you sometimes have to change more than the bad habit. If you always smoke at the kitchen table when you have your coffee, and you're trying to quit smoking, then when you sit at the kitchen table with your coffee, you're going to want to smoke. So if you change your situation, then it's easier to change the bad habit. So he decides to move to Japan."

"My friend is Japanese!", she said.

I laughed again, taking her over to the David Sedaris display. "Then this could be perfect for her. Not only does he talk about quitting smoking, he also talks about how it is to live in Japan and navigate the new culture, as well as trying to learn Japanese. It's laugh out loud funny. And great."

"I think that sounds perfect for her, thanks for your help!", she said, taking the book and walking away.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Daring to Eat a Peach

Atticus Books was gracious enough to send me a copy of Joseph Zeppetello's first novel, Daring to Eat a Peach. Thank you Atticus Books!

        Daring to Eat a Peach - A Novel

Denton Pike is the main character, a divorced man who works in a dead-end job as a translator for a publishing firm. His life is fairly stagnant, until his buddy, Peter, shows up. We find out how Denton's life is propelled forward after Peter's arrival. In addition to his co-workers, Rita and Deirdre, Denton's circle expands to include Judy, his new love interest. Peter hangs on the periphery, getting settled into his new locale and into new relationships.

I was impressed by how Zeppetello developed these characters and made them come alive with fairly spare writing. I felt as though I knew them, liked them (well, liked most of them!), and wanted to find out what happened to them.

They were, especially Denton, multi-layered characters. The books starts out with a description that makes Denton sound rather fussy...

"He had also touched up the gray in his beard and trimmed his nails after a shower. The latter was likely what had taken so long, his meticulous way of trimming each nail to within tolerances that only a machinist could appreciate."

And yet as it went on, Denton's fussiness seemed less a personality trait and more a result of the stagnation in his life circumstances.

There were quite a few passages I really liked that captured the characters well...

"Excellent luck today", Peter said. "Usually this garage is full by now."
"It's a good omen."
"You believe in omens? Last night you were a man of science."
"Science is fine, but superstition can get you through the day," said Denton.



"Deirdre, though, was in a mood, and like many moody people, wanted to make sure everyone else was in a mood too. There are some people in the world who simply aren't busy enough for their own good."


"It irked him (Denton) now to realize how controlling the two of them (his ex-wife and ex-mother-in-law) had been, while simultaneously in a constant battle with each other. He had been the lone chess piece on the board as the two queens fought. It wasn't entirely their fault, he could have said no. Eventually he did. While denial is strong, self-preservation, in his case, had been stronger."

An aside: This passage evoked a time for me when I, too, chose self-preservation over denial, which is perhaps why I liked it.

While I liked the characters, I had a few problems with the book. I didn't love the cover or the title (even with the title's literary reference). I probably would not have picked up the book had it not been sent to me. Neither felt inviting to me as a reader.

I didn't love the whole military thing and what happened to Peter, that seemed kind of out of place. Actually, Peter was the character I felt least connected to, so maybe that was part of it.

Overall, I was engaged with the characters, liked how Zeppetello wove their stories together, and I enjoyed reading the book. Thanks again to Atticus Books!

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Monday, December 6, 2010

The Police Wanted to See Me

When I came into work the other day, one of the managers told me that someone had been in the store to see me. A police officer.

"A police officer wants to see me? WHY?", I asked.

"You did an order for someone in August and he wanted to talk to you about it," he said. "Here's his number, but he said he'd try and call you back to.

"In August? Do we know anything about the order?", I said.

"It was a ship-to-home order, something about kidnapping. The word kidnap was in the title."

"Do we have a copy of the order? 'Cuz right now I'm not remembering anything. That was months ago."

"No, the officer has a copy of the order. You should give him a call." He gives me the number. I try to rack my brain and remember anything about an order that has anything to do with kidnapping, and can't remember anything. Another bookseller was the cashier for the order, I asked her if she remembered anything and she did not. The officer had spoken to her. She wondered if it had to do with the recent attempted kidnapping case that happened in the area. Gert Boyle, head of Columbia Sportswear, foiled a kidnapping attempt on herself. Three men had approached her late at night outside her home with a gift basket. She was suspicious, so told them she had to disarm the alarm system when in fact she pushed a button to summon the police. Who arrived within minutes.

As I did a little research, I found out that one of the men involved in the attempted kidnapping, evidently the ringleader, had ordered the book Kidnap for Ransom: Resolving the Unthinkable from our store in August. I had placed the order. The book was shipped to his home because it's categorized as a textbook (and costs over $60) and isn't something we usually carry in the store. From the book's description, it looked like a pretty thorough study of kidnapping, how kidnapping is becoming more prevalent; it tells who is often targeted to be kidnapped, how it's usually attempted, and how successful it often is.

        Kidnap for Ransom: Resolving the Unthinkable

I found out about the book (which we assumed was written as a textbook for criminal justice kinds of study, not a how-to manual for criminals, though obviously it could be read that way), but not much about the guy who placed the order. I had his name, and found a picture of him, but didn't remember anything about the order.

I called the officer. He asked if there was anything unusual about whoever ordered the book. How many people were with him when he ordered, was he alone? With a family? Other people? I didn't remember anything at all, and I felt bad.

"No problem," the officer said. "We're just checking. Thanks for your time."

So much for my career in crime fighting.

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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Interesting Purchases

George W Bush's Decisions Points has been selling quite well. our store has sold dozens of copies since its release. Sarah Palin's new book, America by Heart has not been faring as well. I hadn't sold any copies, nor had anyone ask for it, until last night, when a woman, longish highlighted hair, jean jacket, beaded necklace, lots of make-up, bought the following three books...

America by Heart : Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag   Kardashian Konfidential   The The Ultimate Wedding Planner & Organizer

Another customer, a woman, jet black hair, wearing a black sweater and jeans, bought Tickle His Pickle and the latest O magazine.

Tickle His Pickle: Your Hands-On Guide to Penis Pleasing   O, The Oprah Magazine (1-year auto-renewal)

What can I say? I find these purchase combinations amusing.

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Friday, December 3, 2010

Purging Holds

At the bookstore where I work, we have a hold shelf for customers who have special ordered books or reserved them. Sometimes the people don't come to pick up the books they've reserved, so we have to purge the holds. Yesterday, the following books were removed from the hold shelf. It's interesting (I think so, anyway) to see what books people wanted to buy, at least at the time they put them on hold.

Water the Bamboo: Unleashing the Potential of Teams and Individuals by Greg Bell
Sackett by Louis L'Amour
Sedimentary Rock (in the Geology Rocks series) by Rebecca Faulkner
The Templar Legacy by Steve Berry
Ancient Egypt in the DK Eyewitness series
The Virginian by Owen Wister
Getting Naked: a Business Fable About Shedding the Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty by Patrick Lencioni
Elegy for Iris by John Bayley
Four copies of Treasure Island and two copies of abridged Gulliver's Travels
Portland's Palate by the Junior League of Portland
And my favorite...Becoming a Millionaire God's Way: Getting Money To You, Not From You by Dr. Thomas C. Anderson

Water The Bamboo: Unleashing The Potential Of Teams And Individuals      Sedimentary Rock (Geology Rocks!/ Express Edition)

The Templar Legacy: A Novel      

Getting Naked: A Business Fable About Shedding The Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty (J-B Lencioni Series)   Elegy for Iris

        From Portland's Palate   Becoming a Millionaire God's Way: Getting Money to You, Not from You

Any of these books can be ordered by clicking on the book is the case in every post!

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