The 'Unexpected Things' Booksellers Love About Bookselling

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To help bookstore owners and staff gird themselves for a hectic holiday season, here is an uplifting look at some of the unexpected things 15 of their fellow independent booksellers love about bookselling. The list began when Lauretta Nagel of Constellation Books in Reisterstown, Maryland, posted a comment on BookWeb's Bookseller-to-Bookseller discussion forum titled "The Unexpected Things We LOVE about Bookselling." Not surprisingly, soon after Nagel clicked "submit," other ABA bookseller members were offering their own "unexpected" loves of bookselling.

Thanks to the booksellers who allowed BTW to publish their comments here. And for those of you who would like to join in the discussion, you can still post your own "unexpected loves" on the original forum thread.

The Unexpected Things We Love About Bookselling

The kids who come in and spontaneously exclaim something positive about reading and/or books! It warms my heart every time.

Today it was a third grade boy who took one look at the children's section and said, "Cool, gotta get my wallet!" --Lauretta Nagel, Constellation Books, Reisterstown, MD

I love all the fascinating people I meet. I love the look on a customer's face when you find the book they have been searching for. I love my job.

I love to see people's faces when they talk about their favorite book. I love my employees. We are a family. I love my job.

I love my sales reps. I love publicists. I love my job.

I love that people get transported into another place and time, if even for a moment. I love my landlords for working with me to "make it happen." I love my job.

I love the ABA. I love all the booksellers that "talk" on the forum and help each other out. I love my job! --Deb Hunter, Chicklet Books, Hillsborough, NJ

I love watching the flow of books through the bookstore -- sections expanding while other contract, displays blossoming, then wilting before others replace them. It reminds me of the part in Herman Hesse's Siddhartha where the young prince, weary of the world but not yet enlightened, sits for months on the river bank watching the swirls and eddies, the rising and falling of the water as the seasons pass.

Of course, being a type A entrepreneurial wonk, I can't seem to just remain on the bank as an observer, but feel compelled to dabble around with the sandbars and reshape the shore here and there. However, I suspect my sense of controlling the flow is mostly an illusion.

And I love this thread. --Bob Sommer, Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe, AZ

I love most all of it -- the kids' faces, etc. Most especially love when someone comes in because someone else told them we can get anything they want! And most specifically when they say the big stores weren't even interested in looking it up for them. Also enjoy ARCs, ABA, new releases, children's books, and just about the whole shebang! --Candice Lahr, CATA's Books, Benton, IL

I love hearing, today, that "I wouldn't have known where to find the book except for the Internet" -- yeah for my website!

I love that part of my job is to charm people so that they really like coming here.

Heck, I love that talking incessantly -- one of my traits -- is actually a job skill.

I love that my staff and many of our customers are as invested in the store's success as I am.

I love being one of the places in town people know they can come for good conversation.

I love that booksellers know that affectionate grumbling is a part of retail ... and good stories are worth collecting!

I love the constant flow of information around me. --Ann Burlingham, Burlingham Books, Perry, New York

I love our customers. We get some of the most interesting people shopping in the store, and many really care about how we are doing as a newer business.

I love being able to introduce people to authors that may not be new, but are new to the customer.

One of our customers sent us flowers to celebrate our first anniversary in business. Talk about a warm, fuzzy feeling. --Bruce Delaney, The Rediscovered Bookshop, Boise, ID

The neighborhood characters that hang out everyday.

Handselling books that people would never buy in any other conceivable scenario.

Seeing people in the neighborhood that would never have talked to each other meet and connect in here.

The look on an unsuspecting person's face thinking they're walking into any old bookstore ... as they walk around the store, seeing them connect the dots like the end of The Usual Suspects ... "If I had a bookstore this is exactly what it would be." --Sean Stewart, Babylon Falling, San Francisco, CA

Oh yes! How many times have I heard:

"I have always wanted to own a bookstore, this is exactly as I thought it would look. It reminds me of that adorable bookstore in You've Got Mail. You remind me of Meg Ryan." I can't hear it enough! --Deb Hunter, Chicklet Books, Hillsborough, NJ

I love it when a kid comes in here with cash to buy games or cards and ends up buying books instead.

I love when my regulars walk in with printed pages from and ask me to get the books. They researched the books on Amazon's site, and instead of pressing the "one-click" purchase button, they printed it and brought it here.

I love the look of surprise when someone says "You wouldn't happen to have X, would you?" and I have it! My favorite was when a snotty Boston woman (obviously thinking a Montana bookstore wouldn't have anything higher-brow than Spider-Man) asked if I had heard of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, and I asked whether she'd prefer the Fitzgerald translation or the Heath-Stubbs translation -- I stock both. The look on her face was priceless.

An expected thing I love about bookselling is being able to talk about my favorite books. An unexpected thing I love is how many new books and new authors I've discovered for myself in those talks.

I love being surrounded by books all day long and getting in wonderful new books faster than I can read them.

I love the compliments we get on our selection. I suppose most folks expect a small bookstore in a small town to just stock bestsellers and some local stuff -- they don't realize how indie stores show our personalities and how many hours we spend analyzing, reading, researching, exploring, and comparing notes with other booksellers to carefully hand-craft the stock in our stores.

I love how much people appreciate it when I sign copies of my books for them. I suppose there aren't many authors who own bookstores, and even if I'm not James Patterson or Stephen King, it's cool to get a signed personalized book when you weren't expecting it.

I love how well other authors treat us -- coming by the store and signing stock and traveling out here to the middle of nowhere for events. --Gary D. Robson, Red Lodge Books, Red Lodge, Montana

Probably the most unexpected thing I love about bookselling is booksellers! The way booksellers so openly share every good idea -- as well as great book recommendations! -- is a joy. Booksellers as a whole are the most generous spirits and the finest citizens and friends I can imagine.

Trade shows and association gatherings and these forums are a great way to keep fresh and enthusiastic, and I love ABA for providing these opportunities. If you haven't experienced hanging out with a bunch of booksellers in person yet, try to get to the Winter Institute, and you'll see what I mean in a heartbeat. --Carla Jimenez, Inkwood Books, Tampa, FL

A happy day here in Central Washington.

Four poets read to a crowd of their fans.

I got a head start on Monday's orders.

I have a wonderful staff and I'm taking them to breakfast tomorrow to thank them for their hard work and to inspire them for the very busy season ahead.

A woman on our staff received a signed copy of a book she reviewed for the Book Sense Picks from the grateful author.

I am still on a post-PNBA high.

I visited a bookstore in another town and got many new ideas.

I am sorting through and hovering over the books I brought back from the PNBA trade show trying to decide what to read first.

A little boy came in today and was reading upside down, hanging off of one of our leather chairs. His mom said she brought him here as a reward for doing his chores so that he could read without his younger siblings bothering him. I took his picture.

A customer told us that our store is becoming a bastion of literacy and inspiration in our community!

We got a beautiful seventh anniversary bouquet from a sweet customer with this note: "I hope you know how much you mean to me and hundreds of others."

There is a positive balance in our bank account.

Autumn is reading weather.

We bought some great used books today.

Life is good. --Susan Richmond, Inklings Bookshop, Yakima, WA

I like that I can tell another person that a book made me cry, or that it broke my heart, etc., and it's completely comfortable and okay. As a relatively younger guy that hangs out with a bunch of river rats, mudheads, and other bearded anomalies that aren't necessarily too into books, it's cool to be in a place where that side of me can come out. I know our customers like to have those conversations as well.

I absolutely love when someone comes back in to thank me for a recommendation.

Oh, and I love free books. --Joe Foster, Maria's Bookshop, Durango, CO

That new book smell. --Naftali Rottenstreich, Red Fox Books, Glen Falls, NY

I just had a new customer thank me for stocking the more 'literary' African-American literature instead of the Urban Lit stuff. I did point out to her that I tried it and it wasn't selling. She said the readers can find it at Borders and Waldens, with a little sneer. I said, "Well, I'm trying to distinguish myself as being different from the other shops -- thanks for that feedback."

So -- hah -- one more unexpected joy: a pat on the back for my African-American stock (which I knew next to nothing about when I started). Before anyone asks -- Zora Neal Hurston = African-American lit; Zane = Urban Lit, at least in my shop, anyway. --Lauretta Nagel, Constellation Books, Reisterstown, MD

A teenage girl was in the other day, buying books with her sister, and commented on how much she loves the smell of books. She said, "When I'm old and crippled, I'm going to come in here and just sit and breathe." I wanted to run around the counter and give her a giant hug! -Sandy Scott, The Galaxy Bookshop, Hardwick, VT