The Musings of an American Bookseller

Just the other day I found myself walking through a popular, corporate bookstore. As a new independent bookstore owner in Severna Park, it’s surreal to think that just over 6 months ago, I was just Melody Wukitch, M.S.Ed. Teacher. Reading Specialist. Woman. Wife. Mom. Now, my email signature has been saddled with titles like Owner, Bookseller, President, Bookbuyer, Event Planner, and the like. I have sashayed my way into the world of bookselling like someone gets onto a tilt-a-whirl for the first time: excited, nervous, and completely unaware of the misery to come. Business ownership has its challenges; but, bookstore ownership is its own monster. I’ve decided to share some of the observations, thoughts, and challenges that I’m facing as a bookseller. Take what I say with a grain of salt because ultimately: I know nothing. But, just maybe, in this mess that is my mental meanderings, something useful will come of this. Here we go. Entry numero uno. 

Selling Ideas Disguised as Books

The book business is a unique industry. Similar to other sales positions, I have to sell a product to stay in business. Most assume I sell books, but what I’m truly selling are thoughts, ideas, and answers. Of course, customers don’t walk in and say, “Hey! Please persuade me to buy some ideas that affirm or question my position in your store!” Rather, they’ll open with something like, “Do you have any recommendations?” Or, “I don’t really like to read and my kid is only reading graphic novels.” Or, “I liked the book such-and-such and the author so-and-so.” I find that I do recommend books that I love to readers, as well as recommending books that I think they will love. Many times, these are books that I have not read. It’s assumed that I am very well-read but this assumption is VERY wrong. While I certainly read quite a bit, I have by no means read every book and it’s impossible to do so. There are between 600k-1 million books released in the US every year!  A friend recently identified me as “The Book Maven” and I think I like it. A connoisseur of the written word. A steward of books. If it were selling wine, I’d be a sommelier. There’s a level of intuition involved in pulling books from shelves and placing them in the hands of could-be readers. I ask questions and I listen. I believe that every person who wants to read more is just one book away from being a daily reader. 

Books Smell Good

I rarely meet anyone who does not verbalize in some form or another that they love book stores. Even non-readers express their delight at the kitschy non-book things found on my shelves. “There’s just something about the smell of a new book,” they say. And, they’re right. Books transport, inspire, educate. Great ones make us laugh out loud, weep real tears, ignite anger, and some even make us affirm or change our thinking. Reading a book requires great stamina and reflection. To finish a book for many can feel like completing a marathon and to do it is a feat that I want for every book buyer in my store. The first book I read from cover to cover was The Diary of a Young Girl, also commonly referred to as The Diary of Anne Frank. I was in Mrs. Walker’s 8th grade Language Arts class and as embarrassing as it is to admit, I was NOT a reader. I struggled to read for a multitude of reasons and while I had read some of the poems in Where the Sidewalk Ends, a Judy Blume book (maybe) and a few choose your own adventure books in elementary school, I wasn’t a reader. I was a faker. But, Mrs. Walker engaged me in a new way. She held me accountable to read and moved me with a story that was not her own. She inspired me to be inspired by someone else’s story and I cannot thank her enough. Thanks, Mrs. Walker, wherever you are. I’d be a liar if I said that when I finished that book that I was a reader, but alas, I wasn’t. There’s more to my growth as a reader than that one book but we’ll get to that next time. So, what makes someone a reader? The motivator for each of us is different. Some people read because they want to socialize with friends at a book club. Some are seeking answers to a problem in their current day-to-day life. Many are looking for an escape from the mundane. Some want to better themselves. We want to feel connected. We want to be isolated. We want to understand. We want to imagine something different or we want to find what is the same. Why we read and what we read is very personal and my plan in this series is to share my very personal experience with you. My experience as a reader is not just my own. As a teacher and bookseller, I am chock full of reader experience and I hope to share it all. I hope to inspire a community of readers and could-be-readers one book at a time. Why? Because it’s not only part of my store’s mission but because it’s mine. (And, Mrs. Walker’s). Seriously. I mean it. 

Until next time. 

It’s Read Across America Week!

Every year, the NEA (National Education Association) with the help of teachers, parents, and students publish a list of recommended books to read. Each month, the NEA features three books—for young, middle grade and young adult readers—that explore a topic related to diversity and inclusion. These books are amazing. Read across America week is a great time to update our bookshelves and refresh our habit of reading.

Reading is critical. There’s no way around this one. The Literacy Project (a non-profit literacy organization) has found that 45 million Americans are functionally illiterate and cannot read above a 5th grade level. They’ve also found that only 35% of American children read at a proficient level in the fourth grade. The Literacy Project has studied behavior in children and found that 85% of juvenile offenders have struggles when reading and 3 out of 5 people in prisons in America struggle to read.

So what can we do?

Reading and being read aloud to has an impact that extends beyond just hearing stories. Even teens love to be read to. Make daily reading a habit together. Why wait?

Read across America Week and Dr. Seuss’s Birthday

To honor Dr. Seuss, we celebrate his birthday on March 2nd and use it as a reminder to read and read to our children everyday. To help support you and make selecting books easier, I have created a list of the recommended books from the NEA on my bookshop site. All books purchased through the bookshop site will provide a commssion to the bookstore and our programs to aide in the literacy development of our community!