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Encounters in a Bookstore #11: A Holiday Reflection

Several months ago there was an article in a New York-centric magazine detailing the idea that mutual dislike fosters stronger friendships. For those with a sunny disposition, I can understand how this article may be puzzling. Why would people who are in bad moods gravitate to other people in bad moods? Why ever would one grumpy person find comfort in another grump.

For the rest of you—us, rather—we can nod our heads. I’d like to use my part-time bookstore job as a prime example.

Current daily affronts at the bookstore:

The store’s search engine capabilities are abominable, and often require booksellers to consult Amazon.com, a primary competitor, to actually help customers track down a title.

Inability to reach the quota on membership sales (which cost the price-conscious consumer $25 a pop per year) = the threat of write ups = the threat of firing.

Books and bookshelves are swiftly being replaced by toys, games, and eReaders, which, let’s face it, people only really got excited about once they had Angry Bird capabilities.

Manager or other supervisor permission must be sought to use the restroom.

No beverages of any kind are allowed on the sales floor. “Beverages” includes water.

Manager permission must be sought to get a drink of water. I could go on. But the above list is not the point. The point is that my coworkers at the bookstore deal with these things everyday of their working lives. But they—we—do it together. And then, when the workday is done, we do the only thing we can: we go out and drink, or see a movie, or get dinner—and in all cases, proceed to bitch about work. We invite one another to parties or open our homes if anyone is at risk of spending a holiday alone. We take care of one another’s pets and share our baked goods. While doing these things we shake our fists in defiance at the man, who is only making our bonds stronger. And then, if one among us has a stroke of luck and can go on to better employment elsewhere, we share hugs and choke back our tears, and pass on words of goodwill and congratulations.

It is easy, looking back on my five years in this city, and five years of encounters in the bookstore, to dwell on all the less desirable things that have occurred. But for every moment that that store has made me sigh, there has been a coworker there to share it, and to laugh over it as time moves on. And in this season of holiday reflection, I’d like to just say that the encounters I’ve had with the others who work in that bookstore are encounters I wouldn’t trade for anything.


Liz Mathews composes ads for many things science fiction and fantasy. Her writing can be found in magazines, catalogs, newspapers, brochures, and books; and on bookmarks, postcards, cable television commercials, and even doorhangers all across the United States and in some parts of Canada. She lives in Brooklyn but considers the cornfields of Iowa home.

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