The first thing I thought of after reading Neal Ferguson’s review of Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash was “Damn, I wish I was back selling books in a store.” Neal’s review was so engaging and probably to some readers even enraging, that it was exactly the sort of commentary about a book that would draw customers not only into a discussion, but probably move more than a few, copy in hand, up to the cashier. And I would guess that after hearing Neal (now I’m picturing him as no longer the university professor, but the sales clerk) talk about the book, and after actually buying the book, they would at some point shake their heads, not realizing that White Trash had been exactly what they came in for.
Booksellers are the closest thing to bartenders that I know. And I’m not talking “mixologists.” Bartenders, those wise folk who not only know what you drink, but what you think. Just as a good bartender knows his or her liquor as well as their customers, a good bookseller knows their books and their readers. Selling bestsellers was boring, but selling a title that no customer would have approached without somebody speaking up on the book’s behalf was the most fun. A bookstore doesn’t need to be in a college environment to sell that offbeat title. There are enough hungry suburban readers who, with very little enticement, are willing to take a chance and read (and buy) way beyond bestsellers.
A couple of weeks ago, my daughter and granddaughter visited from San Francisco. My sister (a new NV resident) and I took the city slickers on a side trip to Virginia City, Queen of the Comstock. Before heading back to Reno we stopped at the old high school which has been renovated and turned into one very fine museum. I hung back and was talking at length with the docent manning the front desk while the rest of our little party sauntered through classrooms harkening back to forgotten years. I caught up with them in a classroom exhibiting memories of classmates going back more than one hundred years, when a woman approached and asked if I wasn’t the bookseller from Clayton Books in California? What? I almost couldn’t believe her. “I heard you talking with the woman at the front desk and thought I recognized your voice,” she said. We became reacquainted and when her husband came into the room, she said to him, “You remember Sunny, from the bookstore? She’s the one who always found just the right book.” And so it goes.
Had Neal been a bookseller, he could have hand-sold the hell out of White Trash. What the heck, if we’re really talking class distinction, I’m not sure there’s much difference, beyond salary, between the tenured professor and the bookseller. – Sunny Solomon