by Brenna Hopkins

#99, 16 June 2007

The Adventures
of a
Clueless Bookseller

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Who Knew?

Adventures of a Clueless Bookseller Series

I've neglected the blog for a few days, and as I sit down to write, I realize the idiot light has come on. The gears need oil. That's where I am with the bookselling too - wandering in a foggy no-man's land, where I can barely see my hand in front of my face, much less read the road signs.

Ok, maybe things aren't as glum as that. My eye seems to be improving. I've been buying much better books - even by my low standards.

I have managed to scrounge a few newer titles that actually rise above Amazon ranks of 500,000. I've also made peace with my attraction to older books. I'm not going to stop looking at them, so I'll have to accept the slower sales in some cases.

I realize I am spending the majority of my time getting to know books. But books are only half the story. Who exactly do I think I am supplying with reading material? That really is the question - the only question. Who is going to sit down at their computer, poke around Amazon and buy a book from me?

Like most high-functioning neurotics, I imagine the world to be full of people like myself - those who knit & sew, love to look at pretty pictures, and are dying to travel back in time with vintage magazines. And don't get me wrong; no doubt it is possible to have a profitable business catering to those interests.

Yet, last week, my best hits, by far, were two game CDs that simulate killing people from helicopters. Thanks to my former spouse, Mr. Quality Assurance, I gambled successfully on a few obscure-ish software titles. Today, I bought 3 Andre Norton paperback books about Nazis and swords; I swear I had no idea who this author is. Turned out 2 of the 3 are genuinely rare, priced in a very fair ballpark at $65 to $75 each. That's each.

Apparently, simulated murder is quite popular, as are Nazis and swords. Obvious enough, I suppose, but not a customer base I've given much thought to until now. Is that video game just harmless fun, or am I suddenly in the middle of a moral quandary? If I'd gladly agree that selling a knitting book isn't the equivalent of promoting knitting, why do I suddenly wrap myself in the Constitution when the subject matter gets more uncomfortable? "I'm not promoting unsupportable lies about other human beings; I'm just selling them!" is a pretty lame excuse.

Back in the day, the store where I worked stocked Mein Kampf in the same aisle as William Burroughs, on the first floor of a building where Abbey Hoffman had lived. I thought that all were intellectually necessary; but I also smoked 2 packs of cigarettes a day, and I thought that was intellectually necessary too. The older I get, the less harmless zealotry, in any form, looks to me. We all compromise our purity, eventually. This compromise isn't a tragedy, but the beginning of compassion for others who also find themselves merely human. After all, I am just some old broad trying to sell enough books to pay my health insurance. Do I really have to protect your child from turning into a blood-lusting killing machine too?

Ignorance and hatred don't really seem to need a leg up anymore, like they used to before the Internet. I've thought about it, and I just wouldn't enjoy the money I earned from selling certain books. The list of books I'd try to prevent being published, though, is very, very short. In the end, I think I'll lose more sleep over what I'd do if a federal agent wanted to see a list of books a customer had purchased. Knitting is a well known act of subversion ... just ask Madame Defarge.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Brenna wants your help as she progresses in her bookselling business. She launched a discussion recently titled "Stumped by Books" in the BookThink New Booksellers forum. Please join in.]

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