Friday, September 30, 2011

Customer 27

A white haired man in khaki colored cargo shorts and a bright orange t-shirt came up to the register. He had a magazine and the book PSYCHIC INTELLIGENCE.


"Did you find everything you were looking for?" I asked as he put his items down on the counter.

"Boy did I! That guy back there at the desk was GREAT, he got me exactly what I needed! He doesn't know how much he helped me out," he said, shaking his head and smiling.

"Well, good!" I said.

"My wife is in the car, and we are going to this birthday party, and this is the gift. I was supposed to get this like a week ago, and of course, I didn't get it then. I waited until now. My wife, she's in the car, and she is fuming. Before I got out of the car she told me that that book had better be in there. She's pretty mad." He paused. "You guys really saved me. Here is the book, he found it right away, and look at this!" He shows me his watch. "We won't even be late for the birthday party!"

"We do free gift wrapping too," I said. "Would you like us to wrap it?"

"Oh wow! That would be great!", he said, even more enthused than he was before. "That you had this book, the book for the present, that that guy back there found for me right away, and now you're going to wrap it? That is the best. You guys really bailed me out here. Thank you so much. You guys are the best."

I called another bookseller to come up and wrap the book for him. As soon as she got to the wrapping station, he launched into telling her how great it was that we had the book at the last minute. Glad we could help!

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Alone Together

I love my iphone. I love all that it can do, I love how the texting works, I love how I can get a response to something I say to someone really quickly.

However, sometimes this technology, amazing as it is, is frustrating.

I have had times at work when a customer has asked me for help and, expecting that I had their full attention, looked up to find them them staring at their phone, reading or sending a text, or even taking or making a call. I have been put in the position of having to wait for them to finish whatever they are doing so I can help them find what they approached me for!

"Kenley" has also expressed frustration about technology. She moved from Florida to Oregon and has been a bit homesick. When she lived in Florida, she talked to her friends on the phone often. Now that she's moved across the country, they all seem to want to stay in contact by text or facebook; they don't call. She said, "I'd much rather hear their voices than just see a message from them. I don't get it." She was geographically far away from her friends, and the technology made her friends feel even further away.

I told her how I'd had similar frustrations, and that I found Sherry Turkle's new book, ALONE TOGETHER: WHY WE EXPECT MORE FROM TECHNOLOGY THAN FROM EACH OTHER.


In the beginning of the book, Turkle started talking about computers and devices designed for social interaction, and she described the development of our attachment to technology. This wasn't exactly the subject I thought it would be, but it was really interesting.

She started out talking about ELIZA, the computer program created in the 1970's to mimic some psychotherapeutic responses. When people typed in a thought, ELIZA used language that offered support or asked for clarification. All ELIZA could do was rearrange words into questions or supportive statements. If a user said "My mother is making me angry", ELIZA might respond "Tell me more about your mother," or, "Why do you feel so negatively about your mother?"

People interacting with ELIZA knew that ELIZA had no concept of what a mother was, and that ELIZA could not feel anger, and yet people wanted to interact with it and found themselves talking to the computer program and telling it things they would not share with another person.

From ELIZA to tamagotchis to Furbys to My Real Baby to AIBO the dog to Cog and Kismet, Turkle described how computer programmed devices are designed to make people want to interact with them. And they do! Turkle observed and interviewed many people, people who were often surprised by their own strong responses and attachments they had to these devices, wanting the device to respond to them, even wanting the devices to like them. People unburdened their secrets to them and shared their lives with them. This section of the book talked about technology designed for social interaction, often as a substitute for human interaction.

In the second part of the book, she talked about how we are becoming more connected to technology, technology that helps us communicate with each other more easily. Her premise is that this technology reduces intimacy or connection between individuals.

I read...

"Not that many years ago, one of my graduate students talked to me about the first time he found himself walking across the MIT campus with a friend who took an incoming call on his mobile phone. My student was irritated, almost incredulous. 'He put me on "pause." Am I supposed to remember where we were and pick up the conversation after he is done with his call?'... Mobile technology has made each of us 'pauseable.'"

Exactly! And...

"When someone holds a phone, it can be hard to know if you have that person's attention. A parent, partner, or child (and I would add, "customer") glances down and is lost to another place, often without realizing that they have taken leave."

I appreciated that she articulated feelings I've had. (And I know that I am not guilt free here, I know that I have "paused" other people.)

She says...

"When media are always there, waiting to be wanted, people lose a sense of choosing to communicate."

That seems to be the key (or a key). When it's so easy and so immediate, we feel compelled to communicate. Yet by doing so, it takes us away from being focused on what we're doing in the moment. Strange. I've felt it as a user, when I've removed myself from where I am (in a store, with someone else) to attend to a text message. And I've felt it when others have done it when they've been with me.

I so appreciated Turkle's highlighting some concerns about technology's effect on our relationships, connections and lives. I know that Kenley and I have felt the impact of technology in our lives. I hope that this book heightens awareness about how the technology people allow into their lives affects their relationships. I know it's helped me be more conscious of how I use technology to connect with others, as well as how it may be getting in the way of my connections.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Nook book? Or book book?

I have a confession. I like my gadgets. I'm not really a gadget kind of person, but there are 2 gadgets I really like. I lusted after the iphone as soon as it came out several years ago. And I longed for the latest Nook e-reader when it came out this last June. And I love my iphone (is it right to say that I love a device? well, I do.) And Therapist and Therapist's mom gave me a Nook for my birthday. Yay! Gadget fun!

I've been reading Tom Perrotta's THE LEFTOVERS and was eager to finish it so I could get my next book on my new Nook! There's a book that just came out, THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern. It's her debut novel, and has catapulted to #1 on our best seller list in the first week. Amazing. One of our managers is reading it and he really likes it. Audrey Niffenegger of TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE wrote a blurb for the back cover, she likes it. I got a free sample of it on the Nook and started reading. I liked how it started. I knew I wanted to read the whole thing.

So then the question was, get it as a book? Or digitally on the Nook?

My first inclination was to get it on the Nook, after all, it would be my first Nook book, and part of the reason I wanted an e-reader was so I wouldn't have to carry hardcovers around. The Nook is so light.

But then I thought of Therapist. She might like to read this if it's as good as the buzz seems to indicate. And she isn't all that interested in an e-reader. And if it's really good, we have friends we might lend it to.

But I just got the Nook! I have been looking forward to using it, being able to tuck it in my purse without having something extra to carry around.

The price was about the same for the digital version as for the regular book. At work I got a copy of the book to take a look at it.

It's a good cover. The book itself (under the dust jacket) is black with silver curlicues and silver writing. The facing pages for each section are black pages with stars. Striking. Black and white stripes make up the inside front cover. The whole book is beautiful.

I was still leaning toward getting the digital version. Part of me felt as though I was being ungrateful for the gift of the Nook if I didn't start using it on the next book I wanted to buy. Plus I wanted to use the Nook!

I talked to J. about my dilemma. "I just got a Nook for my birthday and I want to read this. I can get it on the Nook," I said.

"Yeah, that'd be cool," she said.

"But look at the book, isn't it pretty? These facing pages, the's so pretty. Maybe I should buy the book."

"That's true, it is pretty. Maybe you should buy it." She agreed with whatever point I was making.

T. jumped in. "Is there anyone you'd loan it to?", he asked.

"Yes, several people," I said.

"Well, there you go. And the price is about the same, so get the book," he said.

So I did. With a twinge of regret for not getting it on the Nook, I bought the book.

And I'm glad I did. I'm not that far in, but I am so enjoying the sumptuous design of the book. Sometimes books are written where the words themselves bring the story to life, draw us into the characters and the action. (And sometimes books are written where the words DON'T bring the story to life, but that's another blog post.) And sometimes the words are enhanced by the trappings surrounding them, as in this case.

The story is rich and magical, I have been drawn in and am enjoying this book, the story and the book itself. There are books I will enjoy on the Nook. And there are books I will enjoy owning as actual books. This is one of them.

Did you know that you can find out more about a title mentioned in the blog by clicking on the cover? You will be taken to and can find out more about the book and purchase it as well!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Keep Blogging!

Oregon's Willamette Week had a recent cover article about Matthew Haughey, founder of MetaFilter, who they called the Blogfather. Since I blog, I was intrigued, and was interested to see what he had to say about blogging and the future of blogging.

He talked about sites like Facebook and Twitter, and the trend toward shorter and shorter posts. He saw that there used to be more blogs, more thoughtful and longer postings by people. With the advent of websites like twitter and Facebook, there has been a move to shorter and shorter bursts of expression.

Here's what Matt Haughey said in the Willamette Week...

"Yeah, like I have an interesting thought in the morning and think, 'can I whittle this down to one sentence? I can!' Then tap tap tap, done. I feel bad because Twitter is so ephemeral. All the people I know who were blogging in 1995, all have blogs where the last post was six months ago. I have a friend who says if you don't blog it, it didn't happen. Twitter's too ephemeral. But it kills blogs dead."

and he was asked...

"Where do you see blogs in 10 years' time?
"In a really weird space, because of Twitter and Facebook. There's definitely been a decline in the last year or two, but I sort of see a resurgence of people who want to be serious writers be like, 'Why am I dicking around with writing things in single sentences?" So I think serious blogs might come back, but I don't think raw numbers of people blogging will ever get up again. Because Twitter and Facebook are so much easier.

"It's funny: [Twitter co-founder] Evan Williams, who I worked with on, was very into making ideas as simple as possible. We started with a byzantine project management app, which grew to huge groups working on massive projects for months, and one part of it was, every project had a blog, and then we were just like, "Why don't we just spin this off as a thing?" And then that became Blogger. And then "blogging's so hard, why don't you just make that a sentence?" It's a logical progression, but then what happens to culture? It's kind of a bummer."

I know that I sometimes get frustrated with the brevity of Facebook. (I don't twitter. or tweet.) I find it hard to reduce my thoughts to one (hopefully brilliant or insightful or funny) sentence or phrase. He's right, blogging takes time. Sometimes a lot of time. AND, it more suits me. I don't know what the future of blogging is, I just know that I like it.

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Friday, September 16, 2011

More Dog Books!

I had German Shepherds when I was growing up. Our first dog was Jody (which was pronounced Yody, with a German "J"). Freda, one of my mother's college roommates, trained German Shepherds for show, and she arranged for us to get Jody. Jody was bred as a show dog, but he had hip dysplasia, so became undesirable as a show dog. As a family dog, however, he was wonderful.

Jody came to us when I was 9. His coat was mostly black, with gold highlights and it was coarse, except for his face and his ears, which were velvet soft, and he had lovely brown eyes. He was a guard dog absolutely, he'd bark loud, scary barks when anyone came to the house, but was gentle to all of us and anyone we deemed friendly. He encountered skunks a few times, and so endured (and so did we) baths in tomato juice. He ate steak left out on the counter to thaw. In other words, he was a dog. A great dog. The best dog.

At work I saw an advance reader copy for RIN TIN TIN: The Life and The Legend, by Susan Orlean. This is Susan Orlean of THE ORCHID THIEF fame. Interesting! While I never watched Rin Tin Tin on TV, I was certainly aware of him as a famous dog. And he was a German Shepherd. I wanted to read this.


Orlean begins by talking about Lee Duncan, the man who found the original Rin Tin Tin in World War I in France. There is a picture in the beginning of the book of him and his unit in uniform, sitting on the ground somewhere in France, and he has a gorgeous German Shepherd puppy in his lap. The puppy who would become Rin Tin Tin.

Orlean talks about how Lee Duncan bonded with this dog so closely, almost certainly in part because of his childhood, in which his father was absent, and his mother sent Lee and his sister to an orphanage for four years so she could get back on her feet financially. Duncan seemed to find solace and connection with his dogs as he got older, and his best and closest connection was with Rin Tin Tin.

Orlean does a skillful and fascinating job chronicling Rin Tin Tin and his life with Duncan, his rise to fame in the movies and then in television (these would be descendents of the original Rin Tin Tin, though it really doesn't matter), as well as talking about dogs' roles in the military and in family life. She talks about how obedience training came into fashion, not just to train dogs for military or farm and ranch work or show business, but for dogs who live with families. I'd never really thought about it, but obedience training is a relatively new phenomenon, started in the 1920's and 30's. It caught on in a big way.

I am loving this book, and all I'm learning about Rin Tin Tin and dogs... I think I need to see a Rin Tin Tin movie! Evidently, his screen presence is amazing. Does Netflix carry Where the North Begins or Clash of the Wolves? I need to find out.

The next dog book I'll be reading is PACK OF TWO by Caroline Knapp. She wrote the brilliant book about her recovery from alcohol addiciton, DRINKING: A LOVE STORY, and this is her story of her getting a dog after getting sober. Therapist has been recommending this book to me for several years now. And I finally bought a copy so I can read it.


And again, not that this is about winning (okay, maybe it is a little bit), but I am over halfway in the 100 handsell challenge at work! We had been given the task of picking a book that we can handsell in the store, by talking about it with customers, writing staff recommendation blurbs, and getting people to know about it and buy it. The book I chose was Susannah Charleson's SCENT OF THE MISSING, her fascinating book about her decision to get a puppy and train her to work as a Search and Rescue dog. I loved the book, loved learning about Search and Rescue (of which, I admit, I was woefully ignorant), loved reading about her training Puzzle and Puzzle becoming her partner in Search. So far I've sold 53 copies...wahoo!


Did you know that you can learn more about any of the books mentioned by clicking on the cover? You'll be taken to Amazon's site where you can read more about the book, and order it if you'd like. Hopefully Barnes and Noble will be restarting their affiliate program soon as well. Thanks for reading the blog!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Help for Someone in Recovery (hopefully!)

A woman was standing in the aisle of the bookstore, looking a little lost. She had glasses, shoulder length light brown hair, and she was wearing shorts and a blue and white striped t-shirt. She seemed to be in her late 50's.

"Can I help you find something?," I asked.

"Well yes. Do you have anything about addiction or for someone getting over an alcohol addiction?"

"We sure do. Actually, right behind you is the section." I gestured to the bay with books dealing with alcohol and other addictions. "Do you want a how-to book for how to get sober?," I asked.

"Well, it's for my sister-in-law. I know she sees a therapist once a week. She's been sober for 69 days now."

"Hmm," I said. "What about a memoir?," I asked. "Sometimes reading about someone else going through the same thing can be helpful. And I have one in mind." I took her to the Biography section and showed her Caroline Knapp's DRINKING: A LOVE STORY.


"She writes about how her relationship with alcohol made it impossible for her to have any other relationships. She does get sober, but she's also really realistic about how hard it is, and how some people, a lot of people, don't stay sober. It's really well written. There is this other one, LIT, by Mary Karr which has been featured more than Caroline Knapp's, but my partner, who is a therapist, read both of them and thinks that DRINKING: A LOVE STORY is better by far."

"Oh, that sounds great. I'll take a look at that one. Is there anything else you can recommend?," she asked.

"Let's head back to the section," I said. "There are meditations and affirmations, would she be interested in something like that?," I asked.

"Hmm, I don't think so," she said.

"There are lots of titles about women and addiction and women and alcohol..." I pointed to about six books dealing with women and alcohol. "They might be helpful for her...?"

She noticed a bright blue book called TOXIC PARENTS: OVERCOMING THEIR HURTFUL LEGACY AND RECLAIMING YOUR LIFE by Susan Forward. "Oh. This might be really good. She's always going on and on about how it's all her mother's fault, that she drinks because of her mother."


"And at some point she's going to have to stop blaming her mother and take responsibility for her own behavior," I said.

"Exactly!," she said. "She hates me right now. Her birthday is Sunday. She is drinking a lot of coffee these days. What do you think about giving her these two books (Drinking: A Love Story and Toxic Parents) in a basket with some Starbucks?"

"Well, it's kind of a strong message, but it's also saying that you want her to recover and that these might be tools that might help her. You could give her gift receipts for the books," I said. "Then she could return them if she doesn't like them. Without gift receipts or any other kind of receipt we can't take them back or even do an exchange."

"I don't think so," she mused. "I'm afraid that she'll just return them and buy wine."

I laughed. "All right, no receipt then!," I said. "Good luck with everything!"

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Friday, September 9, 2011

I'm So Dirty!

A woman came up to the counter, greying hair, shirt striped with different shades of blue. "I have a book on hold," she said.

"Okay, what's your last name?," I asked. She said her name and I turned behind me and retrieved the book off the hold shelf. She sighed and sighed again. "Is something wrong?," I asked.

"Well. You touched it. The book. You just touched it and you'd just been touching your face. I have a germ phobia, and now you've touched it," she said.

"Ah," I said, a little stunned. I put the book wrapped in its hold slip down on the counter. "Well, we have wipes, I can wipe my hands."

"It's too late, you already touched it," she said.

"Your book is wrapped mostly in the hold slip, which is what I was touching," I said.

"No, I saw. You touched a corner of the book too."

"Okay," I said, stepping back from the counter, knowing this wasn't going well. "I'll get some wipes."

"Well, that might help, if you don't touch where you already touched."

After I wiped my hands, I removed the rubber band and paper from the book and set it down on the counter without touching the book. "I have to touch the scanner," I told her, and I started wiping it.

"Are those those Lysol wipes? You shouldn't be using those, those are bad for you, they'll make you sick," she said. "I'm just thinking about you."

"Well, these are what I'm using right now. It's what I have," I told her.

"You should wash your hands right after this, then," she said. "It doesn't matter about wiping the scanner," she said.

I'd been thinking about how since my hands were (evidently) so dirty and I'd been touching the scanner all day, that touching the scanner again would then sully my hands after I'd wiped them. But whatever.

"You can get rid of the paper, I don't want it," she said.

"Well, I need the paper, I need a number off of it. But I won't touch the paper," I said. She sighed. I entered what I needed to from the paper and scanned the book without touching it.

"I'm sorry," I said, "but I touch money all day, which is dirtier than my hands."

"Well that makes me feel better, telling me that," she snapped. "This is why it's hard for me to buy things in public places," she said, almost to herself. She held her credit card gingerly with her index finger and her thumb. "Can I slide it now?" she asked.

"Yes, you can slide the card," I told her. She slid the wrong side of the card in the machine. She realized this and turned it around, trying to barely touch the card and not touching the machine. I did not to tell her that some people lick their credit cards if the machine won't read the card the first time.

"Would you like a bag?", I asked.

"Yes. I would like a bag," she said.

"I have to touch it, but I won't touch your book. I tried to use as few fingers as possible to get a bag. I grabbed a tissue to use between my hand and the book, and put the book in the bag.

I took the receipt from the register, but did not touch the one she had to sign. I placed the receipt in the bag, and then the bag on the counter, again trying have as little contact between my hands and the bag. "All right, that's it," I said. She took the bag and left. I was exhausted.

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Monday, September 5, 2011

Domestic Violets

There is a new book making the rounds at the bookstore...DOMESTIC VIOLETS by Matthew Norman.


First J. read it, and she has been telling everyone to read it. "It's kind of like a Jonathan Tropper book," she told me. Who she knows I love. Tropper's books are funny, his main characters are in almost cataclysmically bad situations, and the main characters often don't make good life decisions. And they are very funny. Like THE BOOK OF JOE. In it, the main character has written a novel about a town, people and incidents he borrowed and borrowed heavily, from his own hometown, exposing secrets about residents and not casting them in a very favorable light. His novel is then made into a very popular movie. Joe has never intended to ever go home again...until his father has a stroke. As you can imagine, he is not welcomed back very warmly. It's great.

"It's like a Jonathan Tropper book," she said, "but this main character doesn't get into quite such awful situations, and some of it is kind of sweet. And insightful. You should read it," she told me.

And so I did.

One of the first things we learn about Tom Violet is that he is having problems with his penis. The first few pages being about penis problems put me off at first, not being as fascinated with that particular part of the male anatomy as so many men seem to be.

But I got past that. And I'm glad I did. Not only is Tom having problems with his manhood, he works as a copy-writer for a soul-sucking corporation. He is also a writer, whose father is an incredibly successful, Pulitzer-prize winning author, so living in THAT shadow has been hard. He also kind of has a crush on a co-worker, and his penis problems have precipitated problems in his marriage. Or his marriage problems precipitated his penis problems. Poor Tom.

DOMESTIC VIOLETS was not only a fun read, it kept me engaged, despite the penis troubles (and by the way? if you are having trouble reading this blog post because of the word "penis", then you probably want to pass on this book.) Some of the plot points were kind of predictable, but many weren't, and I really liked the ending. Good read!

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

This was a First

A co-worker asked if I could go help a woman in the Newsstand. "She's blond and she's wearing black," she said. I headed over to the magazines, and saw a woman, about 5'8", neat, short blond haircut, wearing a black dress and black pumps. She was holding a notebook.

"Do you need help finding something?", I asked.

"I do," she said, quickly, glancing at her notebook. "I need some magazines, and I can't find some of them. Do you have Audubon, American Cowboy, Sport Fishing, Saltwater Sportsman, US News, and Popular Mechanics. Those are the only ones I haven't found." She seemed rushed.

"Okay, let's see what we can find."

We looked for the magazines and found a few of them. As we did, she crossed them off her list. She had a huge stack of magazines she'd already found, and took them up to the register. I didn't ring her up, but overheard the cashier tell her the total - over $240 - and she asked her why she was buying so many, was it for work?

Evidently so! She was buying magazines for a private jet. They do this every month, she said. They buy a variety of different magazines to have on the jet so that those who fly have plenty to read. She said that she usually isn't the one who does this (which might explain her seeming rushed), she's filling in for the person who usually does the monthly magazine buying. For the private jet.

This was a first!

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