Monday, May 31, 2010

Customers 5

A man about in his 40's, clean shaven, wearing a polo shirt, with short, salt and pepper hair came up to the register.

"Best instrument in the world, the accordion."

"Is it?", I said.

"Best way to make friends is by playing the accordion."

Was he joking? Musician Weird Al Yankovic came to my mind. In an interview he'd joked that his parents wanted him to be popular, so when he was 11 they made him learn how to play the accordion. Weird Al has done pretty well with the accordion, it just doesn't seem like a great friend-making move, but that's just me.

I turned over the book the man brought up to the register and sure enough, it was Learn How to Play the Accordion.


So it's a week-end. Students are realizing that they have reports due maybe next week. Maybe Tuesday. So they need to find their research materials. On a Sunday. Of a holiday week-end. Not at a college bookstore (where their specific textbook might actually be in stock), or a library...Not weeks ago, where they might have had TIME to obtain their research materials and actually look at them...

"Do you have anything about England? My kid has to do a report." "Have you tried the library?", a co-worker asks. "Yeah, they don't have anything." (really? nothing about England???)

"Do you have Opposing Viewpoints? It's about economics." I search the system, see that there is a series of books called Opposing Viewpoints, each dealing with a separate topic. I tell the caller that there isn't one on economics that I can see. "Wait a minute", she says, "it's for my daughter. I'll have to get her to give you more information." Daughter gets on the phone (why doesn't daughter call in the first place? why don't parents let their almost grown children make these calls themselves? but I digress.). I tell daughter that there is a series and I'm not finding one on economics. She said that there is one. I read the list to her, "Capitalism: Opposing Viewpoints, Child Abuse: Opposing Viewpoints, Gun Control: Opposing Viewpoints, and so on. I list about 20 titles, none specifically about economics. I ask if there is an author. She sounds frustrated. "There are lots of authors, they all contributed. But that's not important." "I understand that there are a lot of contributors, but it might help me find the book for you if I had a name." "Never mind. You don't have it. Thanks anyway." She hangs up.

"Do you have Understanding Nutrition by Whitney?"
"No, we don't, that's a textbook, and we don't usually carry textbooks. I can order it for you, it would take about a week."
"Oh." disappointed. "I need it by tomorrow." (of course you do)
"Did you check your college bookstore?"
"No. I thought I'd try you first."


A large woman wearing a black blouse and a tan skirt came racing into the store. I was helping a family purchase their books. The woman came up to my register and said to me, "What's your name?" in a loud voice. Startled, I hesitated for a few seconds and answered her, giving my first name. She turned away and started walking further into the store. As she was walking, she said, "It wasn't a scary question." The mother of the family looked at me and said, "Well yeah, it kinda was." I agreed with her.

A minute later, one of my co-workers came up to the front of the store with the woman. She retrieved a book this woman had on hold and gave it to her. She came up to me at the register, still in a rush. She rustled through her wallet, looking for her credit card. Her hands were shaking. I asked her if she wanted to donate a book to foster children. She said she did not, she just wanted to get out of there. I finished her transaction and she left.

I asked my co-worker what was up with her, why was she asking for my name? She said that the woman found her as she was working in a section, and told her that I was paranoid. Somehow she got the idea that she needed to find the person she'd spoken with on the phone when she put the book on hold, which was why she was asking for my name. She didn't think she could retrieve her book without finding whoever she spoke to on the phone.

"I like the loopy ones," my co-worker said.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pandemics and Lesbians

Okay, so no pandemics and lesbians in the same book. I don't think.

I just finished reading Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters.

Set in the late 1880's, written in 1998 , Nan, a young woman, finds herself attracted to a 'masher', a woman who dresses up like a man and sings and dances on stage.

Tipping the Velvet: A Novel

Waters is a good story-teller. Nan, who is the narrator and main character, is believable and engaging. As the story begins, she lives with her family in Whitstable, serving oysters and fish in an oyster parlour. When she attends the theater and meets Kitty Butler, the masher, she describes her attraction..."When I see her, it's like - I don't know what it's like. It's like I never saw anything at all before. It's like I am filling up, like a wine-glass when it's filled with wine. I watch the acts before her and they are like nothing - they're like dust. Then she walks on stage and - she is so pretty; and her suit is so nice; and her voice is so sweet...She makes me want to smile and weep, at once."
"I felt as if my admiration for Kitty Butler had lit a beacon inside me, and opening my unguarded mouth had sent a shaft of light into the darkened room, illuminating all."

At first Nan struggles with her own feelings, afraid that she is too attracted to Kitty. Through the rest of the novel (not to give too much away), she realizes that her attraction to women is who she is.

I liked that it was set in the 1880's, enjoying a glimpse into theater life in the late 19th century. And while Nan did struggle with her lesbian sexuality in a culture constrained by sexual mores, it seemed to me that the struggle might have been a bit harder. Nan seemed to find little enclaves where lesbians were welcomed. As I was reading, I wondered how true that much acceptance would have been in Victorian England.

Sarah Waters did something interesting, which I don't think I've seen before. She used her own last name as one of the character's last names in the book. Walter Waters wasn't the most major character, but he was not a tiny-show-up-on-one-page kind of character either. I wondered if she might have identified in some way with that character, however Sarah Waters identifies herself as a lesbian, and Walter Waters was most definitely a heterosexual man, so if she did identify with that character, the reasoning wasn't obvious to me.

In any case, I enjoyed it and was thrilled to read a well-written novel primarily about lesbians. I received this book through Bookcrossing and some of the people who had read it before described it as racy. I wondered if people thought it was racy because the novel described sex between women and perhaps these readers hadn't experienced that. There were descriptive, sexual scenes with women, which I found lovely.

My partner and I are both, coincidentally, reading books about pandemics (and if there are lesbians in the books, we haven't met them yet). She bought me The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley.The Things That Keep Us Here

Centered around a family where the parents are divorcing, the book describes how the avian flu can become a pandemic and how they survive. (Okay, I don't know if they survive as I'm only a few chapters in, but I want to find out!)

Peter, the husband, is some sort of animal researcher. Early in the book he fills in for a professor friend and describes to a college class how a strain of avian flu can become a pandemic.
"That's what we're worried can happen with H5,: Peter corrected. "That's why WHO has issued alerts, why our health departments are stockpiling latex gloves, and why I'm freezing my butt off beside Sparrow Lake at five in the morning."
A ripple of laughter.
Someone called out, "Do you think we're going to have a pandemic?"
Peter regarded the young faces turned toward him. He thought of all those mute bobbing birds, felled by the same sharp blow. "What does science tell us?"
Silence. They were all thinking about this.
"Put yourself in the virus's place. If you had a good thing going, hooking up with everybody in town, would you move on?"
Nervous laughter.
"Of course you wouldn't. You'd hang around a slong as possible."
"So that means yes?"
"That means..." Peter reached over and shut off the projector. He faced the room. Every head was lifted, every pen stilled. "It's inevitable. Maybe not in my lifetime. Maybe not in yours or even your children's lifetimes. but sometime."
And my guess is that the pandemic will arrive sooner rather than later.

My partner is reading an advance copy of Justin Cronin's The Passage. The PassageA government project goes awry, causing a virus that changes people in a bad way.

Touted to be a cross between Stephen King's The Stand and Max Brooks's World War Z, this, they say, is supposed to be the book event of the summer. (I think they WANT it to be the book event of the summer.) Movie rights have already been sold, with Ridley Scott directing.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Customers 4

I decided that these customer posts need to be numbered. There seem to be plenty of them to write about...

First phone call of the day...
"Do you have the book, How to Manufacture Methamphetamines?"
And no, that book is not in the store. We told him he could order it (and have his name and address attached to the order, which would be a great idea). He said he didn't want to order it. He'd try to find it elsewhere.

At our store we offer a discount program that customers can sign up (and pay) for.
A woman came up to the register. She was buying Henry Cloud and John Townsend's book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No. I started telling her about the benefits of the program, and asked her if she'd like to sign up. "Um. Well, er.I don't know," she said in a very quiet voice. I kept talking, and as I went along, pretty much figured that she didn't want to sign up for the program, even though she never came right out and said so. "Ah. Er, um, well, uh," she said. Finally I leaned towards her and I pointed to the book she was buying and I said, "It's okay to say no. You don't have to sign up. It's okay." She looked flustered as she paid for her book and walked out.
...sometimes people really need a particular book.

A family walked into the store. The middle boy, about four years old, strode in, looked around and said, "Oh my! It's so tempting in here!"

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

...And More Customers

There's an elderly Asian gentleman that comes in few times a week to buy a New York Times and a Wall Street Journal. He's very soft-spoken, always gets the same thing. One day a very tall, not Asian man came in with a piece of paper. He asked for the New York Times and a Wall Street Journal. I told him I thought I knew who they were for. He said yes, he was buying them for a friend who was in the hospital. The not Asian man came in for several weeks, buying the newspapers for his friend. I told him to tell him that we missed him and that we hope he's doing better. A few days later the Asian gentleman came in, moving slowly, looking a little pale, but up and around. I told him how good it was to see him and hoped he was doing better. He smiled and seemed pleased to be remembered.

Since then sometimes it's been the Asian gentleman and sometimes the not Asian gentleman who buy the newspapers. This week it was the Asian gentleman. I hope he's getting better.

A middle-aged couple came in and asked for the death and grieving section. As we walked over to the section, they said they needed something about losing a child. I pointed out a few titles dealing specifically with the loss of a child. They said, "But our son wasn't a kid, he was 22." I said that he's still their child, and many of the books talk about losing one's child, and that the age of the child didn't necessarily matter. "He was killed in Iraq.", they said. "He was our only son." "I'm so sorry.", I said. They were crying. I was crying. I pointed out a few more titles, said I was sorry again and walked away. Their picture was on the front page of the paper the next day, sitting at their son's funeral.

A girl about 10 years old and her dad came up to the register. One of the books they were purchasing was a book about Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series. The girl said, "That's for my friend. She has a brain tumor. She loves Twilight." I told her I thought it was nice of her to be getting her a book she knows she'll enjoy. "She named her tumor. She named it Fred. This is the second time the tumor has come back. She's in the hospital. She really likes Twilight. This'll be great." I told her I liked that she named her tumor. And that I hope she enjoys the book. "She WILL!"

A woman was looking for a baby book. She was looking for a particular baby book (that we didn't have). As another option, I told her about what another customer had done for Mother's Day. The other customer's sister was having a baby girl, so she bought 5 pink blank journals for herself and her mother and other relatives to write in about this new baby girl. I thought it was a marvelous idea. The customer yesterday thought so too, "IF people would write in it." She said her family members wouldn't write in it. She has four grandchildren and none of them have baby books. This new baby that's coming is the first one for this daughter. "She WILL keep a baby book. She's just one of those who think keeping traditions going is a good thing, so she will do it." She talked about how she kept baby books for all of her kids. Some of her kids ask her about their kids, "when did he start walking?", they'll ask her. "That's why you write it down", she says to them. She's thrilled that this daughter will be keeping a baby book, and she didn't seem to mind that we didn't have the one she wanted.

A young man wearing a leather jacket and carrying a motorcycle helmet was looking for a book for his mother. She likes thrillers, has read Michael Crichton and liked him. We chatted for a while about what she's read, how Michael Crichton kind of has his own niche, with almost biological thrillers. He then asked if I liked Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. "I loved it.", I said. "So did I." I told him that there is a sequel to it (World Without End); he hadn't known about a sequel. I told him I didn't like it, as it was set 100 years after Pillars of the Earth and all the people I liked in the first one died. I just couldn't get into it. He ended up taking Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, which I liked and sounded to him like something his mom would enjoy.

Our store is doing a book drive for children in foster care. A young-ish man with long hair and a beard came up. He was purchasing two books of gay erotica. I told him that we're doing a book drive for kids in foster care, and asked if he'd like to donate a book. "Oh, wow, that's cool. I was a foster child." He bought Holes by Louis Sachar for the book drive. "This was my favorite book when I was a kid."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Broken Glass Park...and others

Broken Glass Park
I just finished reading Alina Bronsky's Broken Glass Park on my co-worker's recommendation.

While I didn't like it quite as much as he did, this book was well done and a very good read.

Seventeen year old Sascha is the narrator. A Russian immigrant living in Germany, Sascha starts out by telling us that she wants to kill Vadim, the man who murdered her mother. She contemplates ways to kill him, imagining his suffering. She worries about her young siblings, and navigates the rough Russian projects they live in, while trying to make sense of her own life.

After seeing an article in the newspaper about Vadim, she heads down to the newspaper offices to have it out with the writer of the article. During that encounter, she meets Volker, and sees him as a potential way to escape the pain of her life.

Sascha doesn't always make the best choices - occasionally ending up in Broken Glass Park, an aptly named area of town known for drug use, violence and sexual encounters. Sascha is a fighter, and a compelling protagonist. I was rooting for her all the way through the book.

There are no chapters in the book, and almost no line breaks. It almost reads like a novella. At first I was a little put off by not having any chapters, but I think it keeps the story moving and adds to the feel of the book, a little bit urgent and struggle-y.
Definitely worth reading.

I'm in the middle of John Green and David Levithan's teen book, Will Grayson Will Grayson. About 2 boys who don't know each other named (can you guess?) Will Grayson, Green and Levithan skillfully weave their two stories together. The chapters alternate between each of the Will Grayson's narration.

I started reading it on the recommendation of a co-worker and friend, mostly to see how well (or not) they were able to pull off combining the two stories. I'm impressed by how well the books reads, I want to know what happens with both of the Will Graysons.

There are also some fairly brilliant bits of insight, for example when one of the Will Graysons responds to his mom saying "I really have to stop doing this. I need to get a life."
i (this Will Grayson writes all in lowercase letters) think she's directing this at herself, or the universe, not really at me. still, i can't help thinking that 'getting a life' is something only a complete idiot could believe. like you can just drive to a store and get a life. see it in its shiny box and look inside the plastic window and catch a glimpse of yourself in a new life and say, 'wow, i look much happier - i think this is the life i need to get!' take it to the counter, ring it up, put it on your credit card. if getting a life was that easy, we'd be one blissed-out race. but we're not. so it's like, mom, your life isn't out there waiting, so don't think all you have to do is find it and get it. no, your life is right here. and yeah, it sucks. lives usually do. so if you want things to change, you don't need to get a life. you need to get off your ass.


Next I'll be reading Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters. I read Fingersmith by her as well and loved it. Didn't like Affinity or The Little Stranger quite as much, but I enjoy her writing, so I'm looking forward to it.

After that it'll be The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley, given to me by my sweetie. She's good at picking out books, I'm looking forward to this one too.

Ah, lovely to have good books to read!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Recommendations, redux

I bought a book that someone recommended. This is not an unusual occurrence for me, except that I usually won't purchase a book unless I know the recommender and his or her tastes really well.

This time I did not.

It was one of my co-workers. He recommended this book so very highly, said it's the best debut novel he's read. Ever. He thinks that everyone should read this book.
(The link to his review is at the bottom of this one.)

Now this person, who I like quite well, is not given to large displays of...well, much of anything. He's fairly quiet, reserved, though does have strong opinions, just generally keeps them to himself. That he is SO enthusiastic about this book...well, it made me take notice. So I bought it. And I'm about to read it.

The book is Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky. And it does start well...
Sometimes I think I'm the only one in our neighborhood with any worthwhile dreams. I have two, and there's no reason to be ashamed of either one. I want to killl Vadim. And I want to write a book about my mother. I already have a title: The Story of an Idiotic Redheaded Woman Who Would Still Be Alive If Only She Had Listened to Her Smart Oldest Daughter. Or maybe that's more of a subtitle.

So, I'm not sure this co-worker and I are in sync about books we like. However, his recommendation was so stellar and strong, I'm going to give it a try. I'll let you know how it goes.

(Unfortunately I didn't get much of an update about the Amazing Customer and his wife's birthday surprise. I just heard that it went off without a hitch and it was very cute.)

Scent of the Missing

Pilot Susannah Charleson worked search alongside canine teams for years before she got a dog of her own to certify for search and rescue.

Enter Puzzle, a golden retriever puppy who joins the author's six (yes, that's 6) rescued Pomeranians and a cat or two, not all of whom were as delighted to have a puppy in the household as she was.

Charleson alternates chapters between home life with the Poms, the cats and Puzzle, and search expeditions both before she got Puzzle and Puzzle's training to become SAR certified.

Puzzle's delightful personality comes through loud and clear in the book. Puzzle is eager, oh so eager to work, extremely motivated by praise. And smart. And fabulous.

Early in her training, she was on a "Find!" command...
As we carefully extract Matt (from his hiding place where Puzzle found him, successfully completing her task), Puzzle steals a piece of burned wood from the debris pile. Matt carries her to the team to show off her success, and she has her head up, her trophy in her mouth. "Good girl!" they all praise. Rooo-wooo-wrroooo, Puzzle rumbles, the universal Golden retriever croon for dig me. She rumbles, wagging around the circle, showing off her burned stick. Wooor-oo-woo. I know the sound, but it's the first time the team has heard it from her. It's the sound of a dog who thinks she's hot stuff.

The book isn't all cute puppy moments, though. Charleson describes some of the darker and harder parts of search. She describes being on the search team for the space shuttle Columbia disaster (before she got Puzzle), how she and many others searched for days and weeks for shuttle debris as well as human remains. She talks about how the dogs came away from that search affected, overcome by the intensity of the search.
The true nature of canine grief - if this was grief - was a mystery to me. I had listened to experienced handlers at this search and opinions were strongly divided. Some said dogs didn't share grief in human terms, but that critical incident stress was as real for them as it was for their human partners. It could overwhelm a dog in the field, or it might take a while to surface. They said that handlers and dogs would need to proceed cautiously across the coming weeks. Easy, motivating practice searches for the dogs. Lots of play. Upbeat rewards. Pushing too hard could create an aversion to the work and shut a dog down from search for good. Perhaps some humans too - though none of us talked about that before we packed the cars to go.

As Charleson shares her experiences with all of her dogs and training Puzzle, incredible descriptions of the dogs, their handlers and their work, I feel as though I have a much greater knowledge of and respect for the incredibly hard and amazing SAR work by dogs and humans. Not only was it fascinating to read about SAR, it was made that much better by being so well written.

I appreciated Charleson's scope of her writing, from vivid descriptions of SAR to Puzzle's growth to how she and Charleson slowly became a real search team, sharing a wide range of emotions.

Clearly Susannah Charleson is lucky to have Puzzle in her life, and Puzzle is lucky to have her. We are lucky she decided to share their lives together with us in this book.

(This was the book I received for St. George's Day. Lucky me!)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Amazing Customer

A man came into the store carrying a black box and a camcorder. He asked to speak to a manager. I asked what it was regarding, and he explained that he's doing an Amazing Race kind of thing for his wife for her birthday, and was hoping that our store could be a place where his wife would have a task to do and get her next clue.

I told him that I thought it was a great idea, that I love The Amazing Race, and he said, "So does she. And we have four kids, and she doesn't have time...doesn't have time for anything."

It's her birthday today, we'll have dinner over at The Cheesecake Factory where she'll get her first clue."

I've written up instructions for the staff here, if it's all right."

He showed us the box he'd made, made to look like one of the clue boxes on the Amazing Race. Inside were two clue envelopes and the instructions for the staff.

The instructions said:
For SPY, Melissa, my beautiful wife, will bring you a paper. Look under the message at the bottom of the page. The correct wording is 'Kiss me, you fool!' If she has it right, smile and tell her to follow the message. Once she kisses me, hand her the clue.

For EYE, Once Melissa brings you The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday by Alexander McCall Smith, hand her the envelope marked Task Two. It says to kiss her teammate. Once she has done this to your satisfaction, hand her the clue.

He made arrangements with the manager, got the phone number for the store so he could call and let us know they were on their way.

I am eager to get to work and hear how Melissa did last night on her very own Amazing Race with her Amazing (Customer) husband. So sweet!