“You know…”

Yesterday evening at the bookstore was lovely. I got to hand-sell to several kids, parents, and aunts, and no one asked me for books about leprechauns (“but, you know, good books”), which was last week’s special oddity.

I did have one parent ask me a question–well, double question–that I get asked a lot, so I wanted to clear it up here for anyone who’s curious. The question is, “You know all these books, right? How is that? Do you get to sit and read at the store all day?”

And the two-part answer is: I don’t, and no.

Okay, to be fair on the first part, I do know a decent number of books. I read a lot, I talk to a lot of people who work with books, I read reviews when I don’t have other information, and I spend a good part of my days restocking and shelving our inventory, which requires me to learn why any given book goes in any given section. Still, I don’t actually know all the books we have in the store. I don’t even know all the books we have in the children’s section. It’s just that the ones I pluck from the shelf to give to you are all books I’ve read, and I do it casually enough that it looks like I could pull the adjacent title and know just as much about that one.

It’s a sampling bias. You won’t see the gaps in what I know until you ask me for something like a story with a moral or a good book about leprechauns.

So no, alas, I don’t know all the books. But it’s the second part that people get really excited about, and the first question was really only a way of leading up to it.

“Do you get to read at the store all day?”

People ask me that with the shining eyes that novels like to ascribe to little tykes who have just met Santa Claus. Grown-ups, kids, everyone loves the idea that there might, just might, be a job in the world that’s as cozy and pretty and pleasant as movies make it out to be. Working in a bookstore must be so charming and perfect–you read all day, and then customers come in and you help them cheerfully and adroitly, and then you go back to reading. It’s every book lover’s dream come true!

Which, hey, it appeals to me too. It’s just not how it works. We shelve books, we ring up purchases, and we write the recommendations that people pick up from the counter or see on the shelves. We spend a fair bit of time troubleshooting the ordering process–books that came in damaged, say, or obscure books that customers want that may or may not be carried by our suppliers–and putting together author events. I should note that I work at a small independent store; larger stores and chain stores often have different people handling graphic design, ordering, and events. Still, booksellers at big stores will be so busy with customers that they won’t have time for reading either.

But all that said–I love my job. I love getting to talk with people like you about books we care about. I love looking after the store. I love trying to make everyone feel welcome. I even love questions about leprechaun books, or I like them, anyway.

And once in a blue moon, when the newsletter is done and the latest order is on the shelves, when we need a break from staring at the same inventory reports for hours on end…you may catch me or one of my coworkers reading behind the counter.

What can I say? We’re surrounded by books all day, including things like, hypothetically, to name a completely random example that I definitely didn’t crack open during a shift, March: Book 3.

And a job doesn’t have to be perfect to be pretty darn good.