When I started out as a bookstore clerk, all I had to do was put on my name tag and step onto the sales floor to know not only that people were, in fact, reading, but also what they were reading, and who, and how much and how often.
Hand-selling was an art, and as a bookseller you were so attuned to writers and titles that just by seeing a customer flip through this book, you knew instinctively that he or she would love that book. If you loved books yourself, this form of human interaction was huge fun and left you feeling that anything was possible if you printed it on 200-something pieces of paper, bound it, and stuck it in someone’s hand. Bookselling on the ground can leave you feeling exalted and optimistic.
I often look back on my time as a bookseller and mistake that earnestness for youth. So many books, so little time . . . yeah yeah. Now, as a forty-something career woman seeing bookselling from a publisher’s standpoint, I sit with my coworkers in our silo making books and marketing authors while crunching numbers too hard and getting distracted by trends. It’s hard not to get discouraged by the publishing business from afar, even when you’re in the middle of it. Do people read books anymore? Do they even care? Oh, to be twenty-something again, unjaded and enlivened by the idea of tomorrow and the next best seller.
Then I spent a weekend selling books at the Texas Book Festival. And guess what? PEOPLE STILL READ BOOKS! And not only that; they still want to talk about them and hold them and buy them. They want to surround their children with books. They want to give them to their friends. They want to look you in the eye and tell you how much they love them.
And they want to crowd together in tents on a hot Texas day to be near them, to hear their authors speak and take home a signed copy. They want to buy one book on impulse just because it is sitting there looking well designed and tantalizing. Or a stack of books because one is never enough.
As for the Texas Book Festival, it’s easy to chalk that enthusiasm up to Austin. Austin is intellectual. It’s a reading town. But the more I listened, the more I heard places like California and Georgia and Illinois mentioned. These people were from everywhere, from all walks of life, with one thing in common: they all love books.
Just like me.