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An Alphabetical Life: Living It Up in the World of Books

3.36  ·  Rating details ·  335 ratings  ·  58 reviews
Little did Wendy Werris imagine that when she began a temp job at a Hollywood bookstore in 1970 at age nineteen, she had embarked on a thirty-five year career that would stretch into a journey of self-discovery and literary enlightenment. In An Alphabetical Life, Werris reflects upon how she came to embrace the book culture as her singular way of being in the world. Her ca ...more
Paperback, 284 pages
Published October 18th 2006 by Da Capo Press
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3.36  · 
Rating details
 ·  335 ratings  ·  58 reviews

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Eustacia Tan
Nov 12, 2014 rated it it was ok
I picked this book up at the library because, let's face it, it's about books. About a life working with books. Sadly, I didn't like the narrator of the book, which meant that I didn't like the book much.

An Alphabetical Life is Wendy Werris's memoir of how she started a career in books, first in a bookshop, then as a publisher's representative. I'm pretty sure this is also supposed to be about how it's like working in a male-dominated profession, and how she works to overcome various obstacles.
May 25, 2008 rated it it was ok
I am not sure that working in a bookstore carries quite the same cache that it used to. When i was in high school and then later, in college, all of my friends wanted to work in bookstores (actually a bookstore or a record store~as music stores were still called back then even though vinyl was already on its way out), like that would be The Coolest job. My first bookstore job was as a Christmas temp at a mall Waldenbooks (and i had actually had a job working at a music store~in that same mall a ...more
Dec 18, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: readers of non-fiction
Shelves: memoirs, 2007-list
This was a great book. I started it on Thursday night before going to sleep and spent the rest of the day reading it yesterday. What an interesting life Wendy Werris has lead and yet she has the good sense not to "tell all" but rather to use various stories from her life.

First of all, once I started reading the book, I thought to myself, What made me get this book? But once I looked at the back cover, I recalled reading Werris's recent essay on escorting author Christopher Hitchens around LA on
Feb 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who love to read and those who would like to know more about the book business
This has been on my "to read" list since I read a review of it some time ago. I was not disappointed. Wendy Werris is about my age and she tells the story of her life in book-related occupations. Her first job was working in a bookstore and she progressed to becoming a publisher's rep. She is also an author escort.

She tells the story of her life, warts and all, and writes of her parents' lives as well as her own. Her trip to Microsoft had some hilarious consequences as she realized that you do n
Stephanie Patterson
Aug 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
"An Alphabetical Life" is Wendy Werris' memoir of her time in the book trade. As the book business changes so does her life She works for an independent book store, signs on with Rolling Stone's Straight Arrow books, becomes a publisher's rep and then an author escort. Readers awaiting next week's publication of "Freedom" will find her account of squiring around Jonathan Franzen entertaining. Ms Werris gives one a great sense of the day to day workings of her various jobs and delineates in a per ...more
Jul 25, 2007 rated it really liked it
I really liked getting an account of the independent bookstore world since those days are pretty much over. Some parts did drag a bit, but the book is definitely worth reading to get a sense of this bygone era where bookstore owners were individuals who had a passion for books. The celebrity run-ins were fun to read and something I didn't expect (the Jonathan Franzen settling for McDonald's story was humorous). It was also touching to read about the colorful characters she met in the book world ...more
Jun 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
Memoir of a woman's life spent working for bookstores and publishers.

Good thing: The inside eye into the publishing/sales rep business was interesting (I've seen the bookstore/bookseller aspect from first hand).

Bad thing: Way too much name-dropping. Way too much about one-night stands, drinking, drugs. Not nearly enough about books! I didn't even get a feel for what the author likes to read.

Overall, a disappointing book. It was much more about Wendy Werris than about books/publishing/etc. and I
Susan Henderson
Spanning 35 years in the L.A. book world, this memoir is two histories in one: the story of a booklover whose first job at Mr. Pickwick led to a lifelong career in sales/publishing, and also a story of the book industry itself. The sometimes-frolicking, sometimes-harrowing story features not only celebrity authors but the unseen and unsung indie bookstore owners, sales reps, and small publishers. If you are a writer or if you simply live books, this is the behind-the-scenes look you may have alw ...more
Lisa Mcbroom
Sep 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
A coming of age story about an aimless young woman who discovers the beauty of the written word and working in book stores. Werris gives a nostalgic and poignant memories of the small independent book stores before the big chains that took over. Also important is the feel of an actual book the spine the turning of the pages before the great god Kindle took over.
Jan 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Good, but not great. It was interesting to read about how her career unfolded, but I was hoping that it would be more about great books or how wonderful stories get turned into books. I was not as interested in learning about her personal weaknesses and challenges. It's a good memoir, it just wasn't the right one for me.
Jul 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Interesting history of book selling and publishing. There is a lot of nostalgia and some wild times.
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
What a wonderful and insightful story about one woman's life in the book business.
Sep 22, 2007 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book as I work in a bookstore and find the publishing industry full of good stories. After reading this book, it made me wish things were simpler now, the way they were when the sales reps would visit the stores in their territory with a few titles they were selling and the buyer or bookstore owner/manager would decide if and how many based on their customer base. I realize it might still be somewhat like this at the indies but unfortunately I work at a big box store and our stock ...more
Mar 27, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: NO ONE
Shelves: disliked
I hated this book, towards the end I started skipping paragraphs and a couple pages just to get it finished. I have trouble leaving things half-read, so I stuck it out almost until the end. I didn't read the last couple chapters because I really felt that I was torturing myself with determination that was unnecessary.

In this autobiography she skips around in time, and the jumps from chapter to chapter are jarring and confusing. She tells pointless stories about run-ins with famous people which
May 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Bibliophiles
Shelves: book-club
Wendy Werris writes of her adventures and experiences in the book business, retail and as a publisher's rep. I enjoyed reading this memoir. I think this book would possibly be more attractive to readers who have had experiences working in sales and also if you have some familiarity with the Los Angeles area, but it's certainly not necessary in order to enjoy the book. The story of her rape and survival of that event was very well-written. I also enjoyed reading about her parents. I absolutely lo ...more
Miss Lemon
Jun 03, 2016 rated it it was ok
Took awhile to read this one and not too sure why I stuck with it - just because of the great title, I guess. . . kept expecting more. The beginning leaned towards filling the reader in on the life of a bookseller. The author started as a book store clerk then moved on to having a book 'route' and selling her co.'s titles to the stores in her territory. Good enough but then it slid into an autobiography of her family history and psychosis and her 70's 80's 90's with drugs and multi-one-night-sta ...more
Jun 02, 2008 rated it liked it
Wendy Werris’ memoir begins with her landing a job at the Pickwick Bookshop in Hollywood, and her subsequent successful career as an independent sales rep for several dozen publishers from 1976 to 2006. Anecdotes on publishers and numerous authors (Richard Brautigan, Jonathan Franzen, etc.) are supplemented with bits about her parents, her close friendship with Miriam “Micky” Bass, and a traumatizing rape. When Micky is struck with kidney failure Wendy immediately undergoes the tests and prepara ...more
Apr 17, 2010 rated it did not like it
I can't even rate this book. I really thought it sounded interesting to read about someone who had worked in book stores, bought and sold books but all Wendy Werris does is write diatrible dribble. She drops names as if we should be impressed, she talks about her immaturity towards finances which showed me how important it is to save for a rainy day and most of all her drinking and drug habit really didn't make me think she had learned anything from it. So 59 pages from the end I stopped reading ...more
Feb 25, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: lives
I picked this book at M. Coy Books on my way to the bus one evening -- made a long list of possible books-to-buy, but picked this one up from the “We love these books” rack that the staff maintains. It’s about Wendy Werris’s life in the book business, and I am very interested in books and in the businesses of both producing and selling books, so I thought it sounded great. What a let down! I don't think there was an original thought or expression in any part of the book that I read – and it was ...more
Apr 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
At the age of 19, Wendy Werris started her “summer” job in the book business at Pickwick Bookshop in Hollywood. She takes us with her in a book journey that extended for about 39 years in the book industry.
What’s not to love about this book?
The book business, the writers, the publishers and the small and massive books stores.
Wendy Werris isn’t a great writer and to be honest she was too ordinary for me to care for her life story! But by the third chapter I was hooked. She’s such a simple humb
Jan 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Someone looking for a bit more realism out of Jasper Fforde
This just popped into my head today and I remembered how much I enjoyed reading it. It covers such a broad range of topics, and more and more details kept popping up -- about her time at Pickwick Books in Hollywood with Eugene Epstein; about her time as a book sales rep sleeping in crappy hotels in Arizona; about her father's experience writing for 1950s and 1960s TV.

I supposed critics would call it a bit rangy, but as a memoir about books, it's wonderful. It doesn't really have a plot or theme
Oct 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
In this memoir, Wendy Werris discusses her long career in the book business in which she started out as a sales clerk in a Hollywood bookstore to becoming a rep for major publishing companies. I really enjoyed reading this book and learning how the industry evolved and changed over time. I was envious of the fact that she had an exciting job that included hob-knobing with famous authors, traveling, and getting to visit various independent bookstores across the western U.S. If you have a passion ...more
Jeansue Libkind
Apr 03, 2008 rated it liked it
Anyone who has worked in a bookstore or in publishing will find much that resonates in this book, especially the sales reps. Her stories of initiation by fire struck a chord with this former rep; I’m glad I’m not the only one to once show up without a pen (makes it hard to write orders, it does). Werris couples this inside scoop on how books are sold with her tales of her father’s show biz connections and the horrendous ordeal of her rape. It took Werris a long time to grow up but she seems on t ...more
Jul 07, 2008 rated it liked it
A memoir by Wendy Werris, this book details her life as a book rep, someone working for publishers selling their books to the buyers at different bookstores. Although an insightful look into bookselling, the author uses crude language and is often too revelatory in her personal stories. I was looking for more information on books and authors and more job related anecdotes, what I got was a Werris journal.
Sep 12, 2007 rated it liked it
I was really excited to read about Wendy's life in books (plus the cover is great), and it was an interesting look at sales reps. However, she frequently got bogged down with her own importance and asides about wild parties (a lot of it focuses on the '70s and '80s), etc. Of course, the thing that wouldn't stop nagging at me (and thus affected my enjoyment of the book) is the fact that this clearly wasn't proofread, and must have had a damn shoddy copyedit. Ugh.
This book is an autobiography of Wendy Werris that focuses primarily on her forays into the book business, starting with a temporary job as a retail bookseller and progressing through the ups-and-downs of a publisher's sales rep. Interspersed between all the booktalk are details of Ms. Werris' personal life, serving to give dimension to her story and move it along. A thoroughly enjoyable experience and one that has provided several additions to my TBR list--not that it needed the help!
Shonna Froebel
Dec 23, 2012 rated it liked it
From bookstore to publishing sales this memoir focuses on a life surrounded by books. Wendy also looks at her childhood in a Hollywood family and how that influenced her personality and choices. There are bad decisions and good, and she is honest throughout, not hiding any of her idiosyncrasies. She also mentions her favourite books from different eras, and I found that of interest.
Maudeen Wachsmith
Jun 23, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: those who won't get ticked off and throw it across the room
This book varies between interesting anecdotes about the book world and egocentric tirades and namedropping of an insecure alcoholic/drug addict yet manages to provide a glimpse into a sadly forgotten world of independent bookstores. There's a great scene when, while escorting Monty Python's Eric Idle (actually having dinner with him at this point), the author meets George Harrison.
Apr 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2010, memoirs-bio
Loved this book. It is an autobiography by Wendy Morris. Tells of her start in bookselling and her luck and adventures in the with the people in the industry along with some authors. But the stories I enjoyed the most were those of her father and her colleagues. This is a must read for anyone who loves books.
Judy Gehman
Jun 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is the autobiography of a woman who has spent her life in books. she started working in a famous bookstore in Hollywood, before chains. She has some pretty interesting times. She soon is a book rep, and when she starts out, she is one of the first in the country. Always a sucker for books about books, I enjoyed this.
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