The Book Life: Comparing Bookstores and Libraries

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I recently started a job at a library, meaning that I now work two jobs that leave me surrounded by books. Stacks of them. Shelves of them.

Picture books are returned slightly sticky from young fingers.

The recipe books leave me feeling hungry.

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I spend my time shelving, putting books on hold, and searching for that one book about knitting someone requested. I also see endless amounts of crappy romance novels. The tagline of the day: “Scot rhymes with HOT!” (Yes, it was a romance set in Scotland, if you haven’t guessed it already.)

 

My other job surrounded by books is at a bookstore.

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I love how, by necessity, small bookstores can only offer a curated selection of books. Some of these are the kind you buy to show to others, the ones with the beautiful photography. The ones you keep on a coffee table on a kitchen counter. The travel books and cookbooks.

Some of these books are memoirs, academic books, textbooks, picture books, or religious books. These are the bestselling books, the ones the store hopes it can make a profit on.

Books at a bookstore are in pristine condition and are meant to be bought and brought home to find a place on your bookshelves.

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Here, I spend my time helping customers find books and selling them books at the register.

Here, a book might be on sale or 25% off or even as a $5 fiction book. Also here is where some books might be $40 or more (I’m talking about textbooks or books with an expensive binding). Things can start to add up.

A busy day at the bookstore means there was a lot of people. A busy day at the library means there was a lot of books.

Here are the major differences and similarities between the two:

  1. Bookstores are fundamentally a retail setting. This means that there is always some transfer of money happening for the products (and no, I don’t have control over the prices.)
  2. Libraries work as a circulation system, not a one-time sale. There is a constant flow of books going out and coming back in. Unlike the bookstore, the circulation system in the library is constantly flowing and there is almost always more books to be reshelved.
  3. Both host authors and events. And summer reading programs!
  4. Both engage and encourage the community, in slightly different ways. A library is fully open to the community for meetings, but a bookstore can more easily show a movie or host live music.
  5. Both open discussions, spread information and promote learning.
  6. Customer service is very important in both settings. (I was forced to watch a training video on this very subject called “Give ‘em the Pickle”).

In the end, even if being around books every day and can get a little bit tiring, I love seeing what people are reading. I love being part of the process to help people engage with new ideas and stories. I love working at places people can come to get work done or research or just read and relax.

 

So, for now, I’ll just be over here. Living the book life.

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Everything Happens for a Reason (A Look at Dealing with Tragedy)

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The book Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved) is a memoir by Kate Bowler about her life after being diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. Her heavy, beautiful writing discusses her view of faith in the face of tragedy and living life when your sense of certainty has been completely stripped away.

Bowler was a professor at Duke Divinity School, mother of a two-year-old, and wife to the love of her life when she was told she had cancer and had only two years left to live. Her diagnosis ripped away her old life immediately and left her wondering how to live in the face of death.

This book is a perfectly paced story, carefully balancing all the darkest moments with snippets of information and daily life which makes it all bearable. For example, at the end of chapter two, “Object Lesson”, we learn that Bowler had previously had a miscarriage. This moment is one of the heaviest and most heart-breaking in the book. As Bowler shares this moment she says:

“I felt something strange and ran to the bathroom. I started to scream for Toban. As I sat crouched there, everything moved around me in a blur…When we had said all we could say and I had cried all I could cry, we stood there like fools, without language or focus… I could not look down. I was nothing but blood and water.”

But the next chapter begins again with something much more light-hearted: a magic show that Bowler attends wither her friend Blair. By taking the reader from one scene of heartbreak to another, lighter scene, Bowler is able to make this memoir readable and meaningful rather than overwhelming.

Another key part of this book is the two appendixes giving advice on how to interact with someone going through a tragedy. The first appendix, “Absolutely never say this to people experiencing terrible times: a short list”, is full of things to not say to someone (even if you think you are being relatable). Number 5 on the list is the lie “Everything happens for a reason” to which Bowler says:

“The only thing worse than saying this is pretending that you know the reason. So if people tell you this, make sure you are there when they go through the cruelest moments of their lives, and start offering you own [reasons]. When someone is drowning, the only thing worse than failing to throw them a life preserver is handing them a reason.”

The second appendix contains suggestions for positive, helpful ways to interact with someone going through rough times. It includes items like “Oh, my friend, that sounds so hard.” and “I’d love to bring you a meal this week. Can I email you about it?”

Bowler writes about her tragedy and her faith in such a beautiful, vulnerable way. At the very end of this memoir she writes:

“My little plans are crumbs scattered on the ground. This is all I have learned about living here, plodding along, and finding God. My well-laid plans are no longer my foundation. I can only hope that my dreams, my actions, my hopes are leaving a trail for Zach and Toban, so, whichever way the path turns, all they will find is Love.

Zach is beside me in our big bed as I write these words, rolling around like a polar bear cub… It’s another beautiful morning, and it’s time to yell with the pitch of the coffee grinder and make him French toast. I will die, yes, but not today.”

If you are looking for a memoir exploring life during (and through) personal tragedy, Bowler’s Everything Happens for a Reason is excellent and honest. I loved it!