Some News

So here’s what happened last week: over on the far side of town from me is the low-rent student district. It’s a very different feel to the rest of the city, alternative, a bit seedy in places, but lively and vital with all kinds of unusual shops and cafes that stay open late. I walked down the main street to the Amnesty International bookstore, specialising in second-hand books. I looked in the window and there, at the front of the store was my old manager from the days before graduate studies and before marriage and motherhood, when I worked in one of the big bookstores in the centre of town. I had hoped that she would be there, but you know how it is when you’ve imagined something in anticipation; it hardly ever comes out that way. I’d decided it was time I found something interesting to do for myself, and it occurred to me that this might be just the ticket.

Well I went in the door and my old manager was surprised and delighted to see me; we last worked together in 1992 so we had a bit of catching-up to do. While we were chatting I asked if she needed any volunteer workers in the store and she said ‘Yes!’

I start next Friday.

I’m so excited about returning to a bookstore. It was uncanny when I was there, because the nineteen intervening years just fell away as if they had never been. I love my manager; she’s one of the most naturally funny and creative people I know and one of the nicest, too. The bookshelves were all black wood like they used to be in the big central store, and the stock was good, too. A friend of mine, when I told her where I would be working declared ‘that must be the most intellectual secondhand bookstore in the world’. After I’d been there ten minutes, a lecturer I knew walked in with a big carrier bag of donations, including Gabriel Josipovici’s book, What Ever Happened to Modernism? ‘Oooh,’ I said, ‘are you returning that because you’re done with it or because you didn’t like it?’ ‘Didn’t like it,’ he replied. ‘Or, at least, there were some nice insights but I didn’t like what he was doing with his knowledge. What did you think of it?’ This was the kind of conversation I always enjoyed having with the customers. I said to my manager, ‘The passage of time – we’ve conquered it.’ Although I wonder whether in fact, and in perfect keeping with the shop, we weren’t just slightly worn copies of our former selves; I certainly feel like a second-hand version of the shiny new person I was at 23.

So that’s my big news. What else happened? Well, I wrote the article. I’d been told 12-15 pages, which I calculated to be about 6,000 words, which seemed a lot, although naturally when it came to it, I’d got material for at least 16,000. And of course, I’ve been reading. I read Patrick Hamilton’s modern classic, The Slaves of Solitude for Simon’s readalong. And I’ve almost finished the Josipovici book I mentioned above for the Wolves, who are kindly allowing me to join in their group read. I’m loving Neville Symington’s lectures given to the Tavistock clinic, The Analytic Experience, and have just begun a biography of my lovely Rilke. I’ll be posting on some of those this coming week, and catching up with blog reading and commenting, too. It’ll be good to hear what you’ve all been doing. Oh but one thing – I seem to be having problems getting my comments accepted at any blogger site. I have no idea what the matter is, but apologies if I appear to be absent – I’m not! Just blocked out.


26 thoughts on “Some News

  1. Y’know ever since you said Waterstones isn’t like it used to be when you worked there I’ve kept wondering if you’d ever be tempted back into working at a book shop! Congratulations on starting your volunteering in what sounds like a lovely environment.

  2. That is the most wonderful news, litlove. I think you are going to have such a good time and the customers are too. When I was in high school I worked in our local library, and really it was the best job I’ve ever had. Sometimes I walk by the library and wonder if they’d let me put the books back on the shelves if I told them I’d do it for free. Maybe sometime I’ll actually do that — with your example as an inspiration.

    Glad to hear you finished your article. Sometimes you do have to just put your head down, don’t you? Did you say what you were writing about? I might have missed that. But I’d be interested to know. xo

  3. That’s great! It sounds like just the right time for this, for you, too. I would love to be shopping in a bookstore where you worked! It’s rare to find someone at the counter who actually wants to talk about books. I actually have been hearing horror stories about a particular large chain store where the employees are specifically told not to talk with the customers! That’s efficicency of one kind, but most of us would buy more books if we had a chance to chat about the options with someone knowledgeable. When I tell you that the amazingly well-read host of stevereads works there, you’ll understand the kind of opportunities that are lost!

    In unrelated news, I learned today that it is very important not to forget the “wordpress” part when typing in your URL…

  4. Oh, how delightful! That sounds great. I’ve been considering volunteering at a bookstore in town for a while, and you’re making me think I should apply sooner rather than later. I love talking to people about the books they like, and I bet it would give me lots of good ideas for books I could read my own self. 🙂

  5. I worked in an independent bookstore for more than ten years before (and actually at the same time for a short while) working at the university library–until they closed down. I would still be working there part time I’m sure if they were still open, so I’m envious of your new job! I really liked Patrick Hamilton’s Slaves of Solitude when I read it a while back as well–looking forward to your posts–glad you’ll be back online, too (you were missed!).

  6. This is one moving sentence: “Although I wonder whether in fact, and in perfect keeping with the shop, we weren’t just slightly worn copies of our former selves…” I’ve enjoyed this post and when I came to this, I felt a sense of nostalgic wisdom… (sigh)

  7. I love it when things like that happen. It reminds me of the time when I worked in a book shop. It was my favourite bookshop in town (sadly it no longer exists) and when paying the books I got I asked jokingly whether they didn’t need anyone and a week later I started.
    I got that Hamilton and another one. I think they must be very good.

  8. Good luck. I hope the bookstore will be all you want and more. Some fortunate customers there are going to have the best bookish conversations of their lives.

    – And as Arti said, that was a beautiful piece of writing. You may be a second-hand version but one now packed full of wise and wonderful annotations.

  9. I’ve always wanted to work in a bookstore too – even more so now having read this lovely post! Like Arti and others I sighed over that wonderful line. I absolutely can’t wait for Tales from the Previously Read Room!!!

  10. That’s fantastic news! I work in an independent bookstore. It’s my first job out of university, in so many ways exactly the job I wanted to have right now, and despite the hectic retail hours and not making very much money at all, I know I’ll miss it when I leave. I think it’s wonderful you’ll be back in a bookstore. I hope I’ll have the chance to work in one again later in my life.

  11. It is a beautiful piece of writing – makes you think that it’s the kind of day or week you’d like to have for yourself. Bookshops are a bit glorious, aren’t they?

  12. Jodie – thank you! I have long thought that the bookshop was my best job! I’m really looking forward to being behind the till again – so long as no one asks me any really difficult questions. 🙂

    Harriet – ooh I’m so intrigued to read your review of the Slaves. I thought it was excellent, too.

    Bloglily – the library was my second choice (as our local one is rather smelly), but held exactly the same sort of thrill. In the UK we are all being encouraged to volunteer to help run the library, and I can’t imagine things are much different in the US. I’d love to think of you involved in that quiet, serene, bookish environment! The article is about banned books – Madame Bovary and Lady Chatterley’s Lover and – the bit that has particular relevance for you – the legal trials they went through. If it ever makes it onto the internetz I’ll let you know!

    Rohan – what!!! How ridiculous – to have steve behind the counter and not to utilise his knowledge borders on a kind of criminal waste of resources. Why ever wouldn’t you have staff help the customers? I would love it if you walked into the store in Cambridge, though – what a wonderful surprise that would be! It’s my one real regret about blogging – that we are all too disparately located to get together for the world’s most impressive book group….

    Jenny – oh do! It was so very easy when it came to it – and I was naturally expecting all kinds of difficulties! The real problem will be stopping myself from taking half the stock home….

    Lilian – I’m certainly hoping it will provide some good anecdotes!

    Danielle – a bookstore and then a library rate as extremely cool jobs as far as I can see! It is SUCH a shame that there are so many bookstores closing, but hopefully the spirit of Darwin will prevail and new independents and little secondhand stores will crop up. I do hope so. I will have to reread your review of the Patrick Hamilton now! I thought it was a wonderful book.

  13. Arti – oh thank you, how kind. I can’t decide whether it’s particularly powerful nostalgia or just a time warp I’m experiencing!

    Caroline – how about that! Isn’t it just a joy when chance happenings occur? I also really enjoyed the Hamilton and encourage you to try him. I’ll have to look around and see if I can get my hands on any more of his novels now. He was certainly a wonderful stylist.

    Lokesh – bless you for that lovely comment! It would be so nice if you could call in to the store and have one of those conversations yourself. I do like the thought of having good annotations. I am all for marginalia myself! 🙂

    Charlotte – If I wasn’t already blown away by the number of jobs you juggle so well, I’d suggest you find yourself a bookstore in need of your help. But maybe later! 🙂

    Doctordi – oh I love that, Tales of the Previously Read – that’s just hilarious. I’ll have to quote you on that one!

    mbolit – I have so often read your posts about the bookstore and sighed nostalgically! It’s wonderful to be going back. I do remember how dreadful the pay was when I was working properly – ha! Certainly teaches a person how to make money stretch every which way. I hope your next job has all the satisfactions of this one, but with more cash!

    Tracy – oh thank you, and welcome to the reading room. I rarely have this sort of day myself, which was why I had to write about it. But it was surprisingly easy to become a volunteer in an organisation I felt very positive about, and I’d readily encourage others to do it too, if they had the time (which isn’t always easy to find!).

  14. That’s great news. And that Amnesty International bookshop sounds very interesting. Especially if people are bringing in Josipovici books! I also love that line about the “previous worn selves”. One of my previous selves worked part-time at a busy bookstore for about six years. I was very nearly fired for reading a magazine behind the counter (and I also used to hide out in the children’s section when things got too busy). Look forward to hearing about your experiences. And does this mean that you’ve left the university completely (I think you did say something about that but I can’t remember exactly).

  15. Oh, wonderful! I do miss working in a secondhand bookshop, although nobody ever came to it, so I suppose it wasn’t a representative experience… it was a long way down a street nobody went down in semi-rural Worcestershire. Not quite the same(!)

    And so pleased you’ve read Slaves of Solitude – looking forward to your post on it.

  16. Care – thank you! I will certainly post anecdotes here if any good ones come my way!

    Smithereens – I am slightly dreading how many good bookish discoveries I might make! 🙂 Ah well, at least the money goes to a good charity!

    Pete – I never knew you worked in a bookshop before! How about that? We were threatened with the sack if we read at the counter in Waterstones, although often we were too busy there to really contemplate it anyway. It’s the best way to go, if you’re going to go, I’d say. No, I’m still at the university, but term has pretty much ended for me now that the exams are on, and I might as well do something interesting over the summer. I’ll probably keep it up next term – we’ll see how it goes. And I’ll definitely let you know about that!

    Simon – I think you’ve had a lovely job in the Bodelian! I laughed at your description of the secondhand bookshop. I’m not expecting this one to be thrumming with life, exactly, but people DO come in from time to time! And I’ve just posted my review of the Patrick Hamilton. Like everyone else, I think, I loved it.

  17. I’m behind on my blog reading but had to say congratulatons on this new venture, and also “thank you” because you may have given me a great idea for
    useful way to use some of the free time I will have since leaving my job. Our library has been forced to cut hours due to budget constraints, so offering my time as a volunteer might be just the ticket for me

  18. Oh my goodness! How did I miss this post? How cool that you will be at a bookshop! Call me jealous. You must be sure and share all your stories and adventures there!

  19. I’ve been to Cambridge a few times for work over the past few years, and I’ve tried to fit in a bit of exploring/walking around town, but I somehow missed this bookshop entirely – I’m glad to know it exists. I hope I’ll have time to check it out on my next visit.

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