In 1998 I was lounging in a bookstore, fervently praising John Thorndike's memoir, Another Way Home, when an eavesdropper swooped upon a copy, whisked it off to the cashier, and thanked me for the recommendation.
Smilng, he told the owner, “Hire that woman.”
1998 was a pretty good year for unpaid bookselling. I'd been an accidental bookseller at The Owl for at least 10 years, since the buyer and I mutually sold each other on the strange novels of Rachel Ingalls and Robert Irwin. I enjoyed hanging out at The Owl, reading bits and pieces of books I'd never heard of, and conducting ridiculous “first sentence tests” and “sincere or suck-up reviewer blurb tests.” I would daringly buy a book on the basis of a good first sentence, but not on a famous author’s blurb after discovering their frequent sell-outs. Customers overheard my ravings, as I overheard theirs . And sometimes we decided to buy each other's favorite books.
The owner of The Owl, a very cute little bookstore, offered me a job.
I thought the offer was ridiculous, because my already tiny salary as a greeting card writer would shrink to Lilliputian proportions if I accepted. “If you’d change your name to The Could I Make Any Less Money? Bookstore,” I said.
"What? Oh. Well, we'd give you a Christmas bonus."
I couldn’t honestly see that I’d be any good at running the cash register. This indie bookstore didn't have a computerized cash register, and I had serious money issues: like how much to tip in restaurants and at the hairdresser’s? Making change wasn’t something I’d done since sixth grade. But of course I was also supposed to chat to people.
“And that will be your strength.”
“Could you call yourself The Babbling Book? The Accidental Bookseller?”
Bookstores don’t demand great social skills.
I didn’t take the job. I often wish I had. Not then, of course. The bookstore closed six months later, as so many independent bookstores have . But I would have liked to have been one of those arty bookstore saleswomen with jangly jewelry and glasses on a chain, and elegant dresses over tights and Mary Janes. It would have been fun except for the money. It would have been fun if the bookstore hadn't closed.
There are so few indie bookstores now. The Owl was a particularly good one.
But - and I could have told them this - owls were bad luck to the Romans.
N.B. John Thorndike's Anna Delaney's Child is one of my favorite novels. Save this novel!