Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Swinging and missing

People often ask me what I do for a living and I respond, "I'm a bookseller." Frequently people will say, "There has to be a better title than that." And, it's true, it is something I've given a good deal of thought to over the years. Tastemaker is a term I've heard used by friends both in and out of the book world. But no matter how that word is framed it just seems highfalutin to me. I am a bookslinger. I am a bookseller.

There are lots of aspects of this job that I like but the best part for me is recommending books to a reader or for someone to give as a gift. It's always fun and challenging and rewarding to help get just the right books to people. Earlier today I had a customer tell me I had helped her choose a book for her father and that he had loved. That, alone, makes a day worthwhile. That is all we can hope for.

Yet, there is failure. A failure to understand who the gift is for exactly. Their particular likes and dislikes--some of which we weren't privy to. A failure to match the right reader and book on a particular day even. A failure to find the novel that is "entertaining, but not overly simplistic. not middle-brow or too esoteric." I admit it: sometimes these things do not work out. And that's no fun for anyone involved. People often complain about baseball players or weathermen. Three and a half out of ten will get you into the Hall of Fame or 50% is doing your job well. I, we, want to do better than that and know that if we only get four or five out of ten right then people will quickly be looking for other options.

So when I hear from a reader that didn't like a suggestion I try to remain calm and let them know it happens. I'll try harder. Tell me what you didn't like. What else should I be looking for? That puts us back on the trail towards success and a book that will please.

Like all fun things, there is a little danger in suggesting books. It's a high-wire act without the threat of death. And, for that, I am thankful.

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