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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Grace and Grief (Some Traveling Mercies for the Road Ahead)

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During the fall of this year, my family suffered one of its biggest tragedies: the death of my 20-year-old cousin after a sudden car accident. Sitting in the hospital room, surrounded by my aunts, uncles, and cousins we waited for news.

He was driving to work on a Friday in early November when he got into a head-on accident with another car. Both drivers were essentially dead on impact, but we wouldn’t find this out until Sunday after the results about his CAT scan came back. No brain activity.

Driving to the hospital with my sister, I spent the next 48 hours in a constant stream of prayers that sounded a little like this, “Please please please please let him be okay. Heal him, Lord. Please please please please. I’m so afraid.”

I felt like all the air had been pulled out of my lungs. The small hospital room felt so loud, and I was so angry. I wanted a hug, I wanted to cry into someone’s shoulder. But I also wanted to be alone where no one would look at me, touch me, or try to speak to me. I was hit with waves of low-level panic.

It didn’t feel real. I was convinced for several months that I would wake up and someone would tell me my cousin has just gotten home from an extended vacation, plane tickets and suitcase in hand.

 “I’m pretty sure it is only by experiencing that ocean of sadness in a naked and immediate way that we come to be healed—which is to say, that we come to experience life with a real sense of presence and spaciousness and peace.” Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

For the first time in my life, I was face to face with the monster called Grief. I won’t say I know what grief is like for everyone, but for me, it meant feeling like I was constantly dragging myself through life. I would show up and force a customer service smile until I was allowed to go home again. This stage also involved a constant feeling of tiredness that lasted for a few weeks. I slept all the time.

Then came the next stage. The sleepless stage. I just couldn’t seem to fall asleep or stay asleep and ended up getting only 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night. I was losing weight and feeling sick nearly every day. How could I move towards ‘healing’ when I could barely survive a day of work?

“Don’t get me wrong: grief sucks; it really does. Unfortunately, though, avoiding it robs us of life, of the now, of a sense of the living spirit.” Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

I slowly, very slowly, came to see that just letting yourself exist in the present moment without forcing yourself to do or be or change the sadness and pain lets you accept, fully and with compassion, your hurt.

“…if you are lucky and brave, you will be willing to bear disillusion. You begin to cry and writhe and yell and then to keep on crying; and then, finally, grief ends up giving you the two best things: softness and illumination.” Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

Life is not easier now. I still think that maybe if I travel far enough I might just bump into my cousin on his permanent vacation. But I have healed, physically and emotionally, to a point where I can feel happy and peaceful. Even if I don’t understand the why or how of grief, I do understand a little bit better just how God works in our most broken moments.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18, NIV

As I cried on my bedroom floor at four in the morning, Psalm 34:18 reassured me that God truly saw me and my family during our time of deepest need. Even if things didn’t work out the way we expected, He continually reminded me of His presence next to us in our darkest moments.

This event has taught me one thing more than any other: people are the most important thing in the entire universe. When the worst happens it’s going to be your closest family and friends sitting in that hospital room with you. Stay close to those who are important to you, and don’t ever let them forget how deeply they are loved.