The Shame of Bookselling
Regrets of a Gin-Addled Spine Jockey
Some booksellers are statues chipped from blocks of pure regret. Others seem content with the simple, monkish vindication of a precisely lived life. In my fourth year at an (honestly) world-renowned Seattle bookstore-- its name withheld by my manager's request--I still feel more like the latter. Still, 2004 was difficult, an endless blind date with an ignoramus in a sweatsuit, and identification of regrets born this year will perhaps allow me to regain a sense of purpose. This list is partial, but the regrets are whole.
• I regret not immediately transcribing Lawrence Weschler's funny-as-hell story about how, in his time at the New Yorker, the nipples of the Streisandian editrix Tina Brown would harden at the mention of a celebrity-addled puff piece. This story is likely never to be recorded, and deserves to survive for posterity.
• I sincerely regret the existence of the Southern tourist who came into the store in July and looked at our bestseller list, rife with anti-Bush books, and bellowed, "Whose bestsellers are these? Fidel Castro's?"
• I regret that these anti-Bush screeds are what kept Seattle bookstores financially viable this year, rather than books with long-term relevance. This regret pales in the face of my regret that Karl Rove was not eaten in the womb by some weird uterine shark.
• I regret selling a copy of Richard Yancey's Confessions of a Tax Collector by declaring that the revenue officer William Culpepper was the best representation of evil since Ahab. Also, I regret the recommendation comparing Ira Levin to Nathaniel Hawthorne. Apologies to Herman Melville and Hawthorne, to the underrated Levin, and to Yancey, but most of all to the customers I victimized, as the smell of hyperbole can, in its orbital fashion, befoul the joy of reading. I do not regret my giant shelf card declaring that Stanley Elkin was the greatest American novelist of the 20th century. Those who disagree are ignorant cuttlefish.
• I regret women's shoes with pointy toes and await, with a tender depression, the return of shoulder pads and mixed-media collage sweaters.
• I regret my romantic entanglements with other booksellers. As a friend pointed out, late in this year's horrible, doomed summer, bookstore employees can be "worse than drama students." I vow to cultivate relationships outside the profession, with stable, sane women, such as Ukrainian bodybuilders, Hot-Dog-On-A-Stick cashiers, and sexy, sexy librarians.
• I regret that next year will bring the Da Vinci Code movie, ensuring that the adolescent nonadventures of two exposition machines will continue hand-over-fisting throughout 2005. I promise to tell the world of Dan Brown's promise, at a dinner I attended before the damnable book was released, that he would never sell the movie rights out of respect to his readers.
• I deeply regret showing up hung-over at work throughout the year, particularly that shameful morning when, probably still drunk, my lips still dewy with lime, I confused Jorge Luis Borges with Gabriel García Márquez in front of a horrified customer.
• I backhandedly regret that three of the best novels released in America this year, Zero by Ignácio De Loyola Brandão, Larva by Julián Ríos, and Three Trapped Tigers by Cabrera Infante, were originally published years ago in Brazil, Spain, and Cuba, respectively. I am eternally, unabashedly grateful to the Dalkey Archive for bringing these books back into print, and for daring to be that rare oxymoron: a brilliant publisher.
• I regret that memoirist Marjane Satrapi did not find me wildly attractive. I regret the mad, torrid affair that did not happen due to this oversight on the Persepolis author's part.
• I regret that, in my first book review for The Stranger, the second sentence glares with a reference to "…expensive coastal cabins on the Maine coast." I vow to reread my articles once while sober, as determined by the Borges/García-Márquez test, administered, preferably, by someone who is also sober.
• Finally, I regret that these regrets will have no effect on disarming future regrets, just as much as I regret that the publishing world, this year, fizzled into a movie-rights-farm morass of whine and blandness, forcing me to shovel shitloads of horrible books into the hands of people who, above all, just want to experience a moving, powerful novel written by an author who hasn't been dead for at least 20 years. I regret the cynicism that I feel in wondering if 2005 will not be more of the same.