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. 

The Loss of Our Friend, Beverly Cleary

My friend, Beverly Cleary, died yesterday at the very seasoned age of 104. What an amazing and remarkable life she had lived. Some of you may be saying, “Wow! Melody knows Beverly Cleary?!” And, while I did not know her personally, I do indeed feel like I knew her.

A childhood full of stories

One of the first novels I ever read cover-to-cover was Ramona Quimby, Age 8. Ramona’s adventures, sibling troubles and honest life-lessons, wrapped up in a humorous narrative engaged me in the same way that Lisa Frank notebooks and the New Kids On The Block did when I was a kid. It’s funny because when I think of Beverly Cleary and other beloved children’s authors like Judy Blume, Louis Sachar, and Roald Dahl, I feel strangely possessive and proud. I feel like these books…these authors, belong to ME and the other kids who grew up in the 80’s, during a time of cassette tapes and cigarette lighters in cars. But, the authors above began writing long before I was lucky enough to read them. Cleary published her first novel in 1950. Many children before me loved Henry Huggins, his friend Beezus, and welcomed Ramona, the pesky little sister in 1955. Cleary created timeless characters that appealed to children long before I got to know them and will continue to delight young readers for years to come.

“If you don’t see the book you want on the shelves, write it.”

Beverly Cleary

Words endure

The beauty of writing is that words endure. We mourn the loss of an author in many ways. We pay tribute by buying their novels, tweeting, reading and writing articles of remembrance and sometimes celebrating their life if schools. As a librarian turned author, I believe that Beverly Cleary would love to be honored by reading. As a reading specialist, I spend much of my time encouraging and engaging people of all ages to read. As Frederick Douglass said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” But, a lesson I take from the loss of Cleary is that she will endure because she was a writer.

We should write. Just as we should read every day, we should write every single day. Whether you enjoy writing stories or poetry, making lists, or simply recording your day-to-day living through journaling, we should write every day. Our words will live on longer than our bodies.

To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.

Allen Ginsberg

Find your voice—begin writing today!

In memory of our friend, Beverly Cleary. May you live forever in our hearts and remind us that our voices are timeless when we take the time to write.

Happy Reading…and Writing!

Melody