Claudia's Reviews > Shelf Life: Romance, Mystery, Drama, and Other Page-Turning Adventures from a Year in a Book store

Shelf Life by Suzanne Strempek Shea
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's review
Aug 14, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: books-about-books
Read from January 04 to 17, 2013

It's always interesting to read someone else's perspective on something one's done oneself, and greatly enjoyed--in this case, work in a bookstore.

It's odd, too, to see the things that other people focus on, and the differences that arise just from store to store. They aren't necessarily regional differences, either, since I've worked in a Boston shop and her's is only a couple of hours drive west. I too was working in a bookstore not longer after 9/11, but we had a completely different experience; while Shea talks about 9/11-themed books flying out of the store, we found ourselves stuck with enormous piles of returns. I admit, I'm kind of fascinated by this, and now I'm really wondering what it was like in other parts of the country.

Shea also spends a lot of time talking about the gift side of her shop, which I always avoided as deadly dull, and, honestly, snubbed as being a distraction from the actual point of a bookstore. She's quite right, though, in that those little trinkets can often bring in enough money to make a real difference in the survival of bookstores, so people like me really need to get over that sort of self-defeating snobbery. I still find it a bit amazing to realize that someone can actually get enthusiastic about the greeting cards (and as someone who really hates scented candles, I sympathized with the customer who complained when they were brought into the shop). But, as they say, "computer books pay for the poetry section," and gifts are much the same.

I was also amused as she learned some of the nitty-gritty of book retailing--"stripping" mass-market books is indeed something that needs a little getting used to. I used to suggest that we charge customers who'd just suffered bad breakups a small amount for the opportunity to strip the romance books each month, sort of a Tom Sawyerish public service: "True love forever, hah! Take that! [rip]"

But really, the best part is watching as Shea comes to understand the joy of hand selling. Her descriptions of how the store owner would take the time to share her knowledge and help figure out just the right book for just this customer, right here, right now, were spot on. The only part she missed is the little glow of the moment when that customer comes back, happy and wanting more: "I loved that book you recommended, it was perfect! Now I need another, please!"

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message 1: by Sara (new)

Sara Yeah!!!

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