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Dear Book Customers, whom I gratefully serve,

Thank you for your appreciation of fine literature, or at least diet books and Playboy magazines. I feel that our common love of reading binds us in an invisible bond of friendship that will last a lifetime (mine or yours, whichever is shorter). Hurrah!

This letter is to thank you. Because I know that, as a lover of reading, you cherish books as much as I do. You would never set your coffee cup on our new arrivals table, leaving a nice brown ring on the face of a new hardcover (that must have been a movie renter passing by). Nor would you ever take art books or bibles out of their shrink wrap, leaving them without price tags and vulnerable to damage; the written word is too precious to you, surely. That’s why you always watch your children, too, and never let them rip, bend, throw, stick in their mouth, or remove pages or accessories from any book. Thank you, friend. Because of your unfailing efforts as a parent, our children’s section is the absolute most fun to maintain.

I also want you to know that I’m completely understanding of your never putting books back the same place you got them. After all, books are special and unlike all other things on this planet they don’t take up physical space and therefore don’t leave a visible gap where you removed them from. Also, you can’t be expected to master the complex organization method of shelving books. It’s not like we all learn the alphabet in school or anything! Besides, my associates and I are all psychically linked to each and every one of the tens of thousands of items in the store so, don’t worry, we’ll be able to find the item you misplaced the next time someone else is looking for it.

I hope you know how much I enjoy helping you to find the books you’re searching for, and maybe a few that you aren’t. You are so much fun with your incomplete titles and misremembered authors, I feel like I’m not only a bookseller but also a detective, the fulfillment of a childhood dream! It makes me endlessly happy to know that there are others like me, for whom movies and video games cannot replace reading a good book. My dear customers, this Thanksgiving I’m thankful for you!

~Mallory

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For nearly the entirety of my employment at the gallery, I regularly asked my boss to change my job title. “Book Manager” just didn’t encompass my varied responsibilities and it completely ignored my work with the art. Yes I ordered the books, yes I merchandised the books, yes I organized book related events, but what about all the other stuff? When I gave notice that I would be moving away, my boss finally changed my title to Art and Literature Manager. But my relief from my original title was short-lived. I am happy to announce that I am once again a Book Manager, this time at a major entertainment retailer in Moses Lake. Squeeee!

The relief I feel is indescribable, not only to have a job again but to be able to continue working with books! I didn’t want this blog to turn into a less funny version of The Office, and with how many administrative and office assistant jobs I applied for it was looking like a serious risk. I applied for Book Manager online not imagining that They were actually hiring and was pleasantly surprised to get a call for an interview. There I was informed that They were only hiring for part-time “associates” but maybe I’d be able to grow into the book department. It wasn’t until after I came in to sign papers that They informed me that my passion for books had made such on impression at the interview that They opened the Book Manager position for me! That means books, full-time employment, and, as a little bonus, I don’t have to wear the company polo shirt because I’ll be management (I’m so glad that my necessary three interview blouses won’t go to waste).

Ahhhh… Life is good again.

We’ve all been asked the question, “paper or plastic?”. Plastic was the environmentally-friendly answer when I was a kid because it wasn’t a dead tree. Now, because it’s biodegradable, the answer is paper. Or to not take a bag at all. Or to bring a reusable bag. This is all great for the environment, but what about the clerk?

As a bookseller, I don’t have to bother with the paper or plastic question (I can only imagine what grocers must face each day), but I must instead inquire whether my customers would like a bag “or not.” In the good ol’ days, everyone expected a bag. You rang up the merch, stuck it in a bag, done! A couple months ago I read an article that suggested retailers ask “do you need a bag” instead of “would you like a bag.” Notice the subtle difference? How many people need a bag?

The problem here (I use the word problem lightly) is the classic “we can’t be everything for everybody.” Most folks respond to the bag question decisively, others waffle, but some… some… look at you like you’re the devil. I can’t imagine baggers of the past dealing with this issue. Either you’re the devil because you dared to imply that they wouldn’t want a bag — of course they want a bag! They’re buying something aren’t they? They’re giving you money! — or you’re the devil for suggesting that they take a bag when it’s so obviously a blatant waste of our precious resources.

Lately, I’ve found myself justifying the question. Like “would you like a bag? Since, you see, it’s raining out?” As though I would never dream of offering them a bag if it was sunny. Or if they’re already carrying a large shopping bag, I edit the question to be “would you like a bag, or do you just want to add these to the one you have?” like I’m the bag police. Or, and this one’s terrible, I try to guess whether the customer is the bag-rejecting type based on what they’re wearing or what book they’re buying. I’ve got a pretty good average though.

But is all this angst really necessary? I can’t help but feel that the reusable bag craze is just another fad that has been well capitalized on. Raise your hand if you’ve bought one or three but never remember to bring it to the store with you! I can think of two really good things that have come from this, though, that will hopefully be long-lasting:

1. Some people have now trained themselves to not take a bag when they buy something that they can just as easily carry, and that is a habit that can’t fall prey to our ability to forget or misplace small items like rolled up bags.

2. Many grocers and big box stores have plastic bag returns for recycling/reuse, so now answering “plastic” at checkout and then bringing your bags back in to return the next time is almost as good as bringing your own, and you’re not out any money for trendy bags.

So… To bag or not to bag, that is the question. Which do you choose?

I love to read, but isn’t there something so melancholy about sliding that finished book back onto the shelf where it will wait who-knows-how-long until you pick it up for another go? Solution: lend it to a friend! I have found that lending out a good book greatly increases my enjoyment of it. It’s also wonderful to be lent a “must read” by someone dear. The reading process is so quiet and internal, and I love that about it, but there is a richness added when you can share your reactions to that other world with someone who’s traveled there too. So here’s my current lending library status (though I’m sure I’m forgetting some that I have loaned out) along with brief reviews.

Books I’m Lending:

Alice I Have Been, by Melanie Benjamin (lent to my mom) – My favorite historical novel of the moment, this story left me spellbound. Alice Liddell sounds like such an extraordinary person and I had no idea that Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Dodgson) was a mathematics professor at Oxford. I am now re-reading Lewis Carroll’s complete works to see if I can take away anything new.

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, by Heidi W. Durrow (lent to my mom) – A fascinating novel about racial identity and stereotyping. The main character, Rachel, is the daughter of an African-American G.I. and a Danish woman. When a family tragedy lands her back in the States with her black grandmother, she finds herself being defined by unfamiliar prejudices and struggles to be “black enough.”

The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game, both by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (lent to Ginny) – I can’t praise these two novels highly enough, especially with their literature-loving characters. In The Shadow of the Wind, the main character is a bookseller’s son, and in The Angel’s Game the main character is an author, and though it came after Shadow it takes place years before when bookseller is a young man. And, of course, both feature the mysterious Cemetery of Forgotten Books.

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett (lent to Kimmee) – I couldn’t put this one down and will probably re-read it as soon as I get it back. Set in Mississippi in the 1960s, the diverse and spunky cast of women shines light not only on the race issues of the time, but also on conflicts regarding gender roles, social classes, and generational expectations.

Books I’m Borrowing:

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe (lent by Ginny) – I just got this one on Friday and started it at breakfast this morning.

The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux (lent by Kimmee) – I have had this one on loan for about a year now and still not cracked the cover. Shame on me. I was fortunate enough to see the musical last year and wanted to read the book, but I guess not bad enough.

Beginnings, Middles, and Ends, by Nancy Kress (lent by Phyllis) – This is a fantastic book on writing and I would highly recommend it to any writer. Confession: I have my own copy now (different edition) but still need to locate my borrowed copy, which is in a box in my basement somewhere since I moved last year. Sorry Phyllis, I promise it will be returned soon!

Through my work I’ve been exposed to things I’d never have guessed at in my formative years. I’ve gone to bookselling tradeshows and met some of my favorite authors, leaving with bags and bags of free books, many of them autographed (squee!). I’ve had my portrait photographed with my twin sister for being local filmmakers, as part of a local artist series that was purchased and donated to our Museum of Arts and Culture. And, most recently, my husband and I were able to attend the 25th annual Works from the Heart art auction last night, thanks to my boss sponsoring a table there. Of course, we wouldn’t be able to bid on anything (I wish) but it was a fun reason to dress up, taste some new fancy foods, and chat with the artists I work with at someplace other than the gallery.

There were some truly stunning pieces there. I decided that I would imagine I had more in my wallet than a punch card to Taco del Mar and choose the five pieces that, in an alternate universe, would be mine.

No.5   “White Trail Road” by Kim Wheaton

I had never seen Kim Wheaton’s work before, but this painting was so beautiful in its simplicity, I felt that I could merely glance at it and feel at peace.

No.4   “Garden Tree” by Mason McCuddin

Mason McCuddin won me over with his “Yellow Brick Road” hanging sculpture last August, and “Garden Tree” didn’t disappoint. A photo can’t do it justice, because the motion of the piece and how it changes from each angle are part of the charm.

No.3   “Country Charmer” by Dean Davis

Though I’m not usually a fan of photography printed on canvas, it did seem to add something to this moody print. In fact, it seemed like you could just fall into the canvas.

No. 2   “In the Grass” by Dara Harvey

Dara Harvey’s whimsical paintings always delight me, but this is my favorite of hers so far, though I may be biased by the subject matter.

No. 1   “Chardonnay” by E. L. Stewart

Elsie Stewart’s painting was my favorite of the evening, no question. Her layers of color, varied texture, and unique composition were masterfully done, and the subject matter is timeless. I must be content to lock the image in my memory, as I’m sure it found a home last night.

We didn’t stay for the live auction (I could only torture my husband for so long), but the quality of art and the amount of wine being consumed promised that it would be a successful fundraiser for the museum. Though I left without any art, I had tasted my first caviar and hadn’t spilled anything on the dress I borrowed from my sister, so I count the night as a success.

Consider the following scenario:

You’re strolling the aisles of a grocery store, looking for an elusive bottle of gluten-free soy sauce when you notice a young employee in a red vest strolling toward you, straightening items on the shelves as he walks. He sees your empty basket and worried expression and asks if he can help you with anything.

“Can I speak to your manager or someone who knows about food?” you ask.

The young employee does a double take and adjusts his vest, an indignant look on his face. “Maybe I could answer your question. What do you need?”

You then doubtfully explain what your looking for — slowly and deliberately since you’re sure he won’t possibly understand — and the now-much-less-friendly grocery clerk responds deftly with the item’s exact location since, SURPRISE!, that’s his job.

The behavior above could be classified as simply rude or self-important, but in another environment it can be interpreted as something infinitely worse: unprofessional.

In my work at an indie art gallery and bookstore, I get this kind of unprofessional behavior all the time. No doubt thinking they come off as “in-the-know” by asking to speak to the gallery owner before even exchanging a hello with me or my coworkers, artists and self-published authors don’t realize that they were already speaking to the ones who could best help them. When approaching a business with your wares, you would do well to keep the following ideas in mind:

  1. It’s like going to the doctor; you don’t have anything we haven’t seen before. Believe it or not, you’re not the first person to approach us because you’re an artist or a writer. Don’t be nervous, but don’t expect us to treat you like a celebrity either.
  2. We’re not fooled. When you come in and ask to speak to the owner, it’s pretty obvious you’re not her best pal coming for a lunch date. You don’t even know her name! In what way is it professional to march into a place of business and ask to see the owner without introducing yourself or stating why you’re there? Of course, we know why you’re here, but the point is you could be an ax murderer. So be polite. Introduce yourself to the people who actually work here, because if by chance you do actually get your wares in here we’re the ones you’re actually going to be working with.
  3. And what makes you think I’m not the owner? I actually had a girl come in one time, march right up to the counter, and ask to talk to “my boss.” I could be the boss for all you know. Treat the person you meet at the counter as though they’re the one you need to talk to. If they aren’t qualified to answer your questions, they’ll direct you to the one you need to talk to.
  4. Put some thought into what you’re going to say. This is a business pitch. Come up with something better than “what does somebody have to do to get their stuff in here?” as though it’ll be some arbitrary challenge like picking the right number out of a hat. Another common one is starting with “I’m an [artist or author]” and then pausing for an uncomfortably long time as though I might break into applause. And for god’s sake don’t start with “boy, I got something to show you you’re gonna like.”
  5. Come in prepared but not demanding. If you’re just stopping in without an appointment, don’t expect the world to come to a halt for you. Ask whether you can leave us with a CD of images of your work or a copy of your book for us to review on our own time, and actually have the CD or book on you so you can actually leave it (common mistake). You don’t need to bother the owner to put it in her hand, it’ll get to her when she’s got the time to look at it.
  6. Be fairly sure it’s a good fit before you start taking up people’s time. Don’t pitch a gallery on your abstract paintings if they only sell western art, and don’t bring your self-published memoir to a bookstore that only sells contemporary fiction. Most galleries and indie bookshops run on a small staff and we can tell if you’ve never set foot in the place before. That’s not necessarily a deal killer, but it’s polite to show some knowledge or at least interest in the business you’re asking to take an interest in you, the business we dedicate our daylight hours to.

The biggest lesson here is that politeness goes a long way. When you assume that the person working the counter is chopped liver and you need to talk to someone more important, the only one you’re hurting is yourself. They are the gatekeeper, the one who actually makes the place run, and the one that you actually are talking to, so make your words count.

Mallory Battista’s Blog

Notes from an aspiring author, artist, and occasional gluten-free cook.

Storytelling isn’t just a thing to do, it is a way of seeing the world.

I am a storyteller. I live as though I am a hero on a quest and I strive to treat every person that crosses my path as the main character of an equally complex and exciting story. I find joy when their paths overlap with mine, and though some encounters are fleeting and others last a lifetime, I see the importance of each one to the continuation of Life's plot. I am grateful for the adversity that is set before me, as it makes me a more well-rounded character and adds challenge and excitement to my journey. And I always, ALWAYS have faith in happy endings.

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