Saturday, January 26, 2008
Bookstore Lists

Things I Don't Care About

how you are
whether you found everything you were looking for
why you don't want a Fnorders Rewards card
why you're buying this
who it's for
why precisely you do or do not want a bag
anything else that prevents you from moving the fuck down the line and away from my register

My Favorite Romance Novel Titles
(these are all actual titles currently found on our shelves)

To Wed a Scandalous Spy
Succubus On Top
My Immortal Highlander*
Double Dating the Dead
Savor Me Slowly
Nerds Like It Hot
Bedded By Her Lord
Big Spankable Asses

Things That Have Apparently Not Changed Since George Orwell Worked in a Bookstore

"Many of the people who came to us were of the kind who would be a nuisance anywhere but have special opportunities in a bookshop. For example, the dear old lady who 'wants a book for an invalid' (a very common demand, that), and the other dear old lady who read such a nice book in 1897 and wonders whether you can find her a copy. Unfortunately she doesn't remember the title or the author's name or what the book was about, but she does remember that it had a red cover."

"Scarcely half the people who ordered books from us ever came back. It used to puzzle me at first. What made them do it? They would come in and demand some rare and expensive book, would make us promise over and over again to keep it for them, and then would vanish never to return. But many of them, of course, were unmistakable paranoiacs."

"In a town like London there are always plenty of not quite certifiable lunatics walking the streets, and they tend to gravitate towards bookshops, because a bookshop is one of the few places where you can hang about for a long time without spending any money."

"At Christmas time we spent a feverish ten days struggling with Christmas cards and calendars, which are tiresome things to sell but good business while the season lasts. It used to interest me to see the brutal cynicism with which Christian sentiment is exploited. The touts from the Christmas card firms used to come round with their catalogues as early as June. A phrase from one of their invoices sticks in my memory. It was: '2 doz. Infant Jesus with rabbits'."

"Seen in the mass, five or ten thousand at a time, books were boring and even slightly sickening."

And One Thing That Has

"Also it is a humane trade which is not capable of being vulgarized beyond a certain point. The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman."

(George Orwell, Bookshop Memories)

*Highlanders -- as in Scotsmen, not these guys -- are a surprisingly robust sub-genre in the romance section. At first I thought it was just one obsessed author writing about highlanders specifically, but no, there are at least half a dozen, probably more, who've lusted after tartan-sheathed claymores. There are even sub-sub-genres, as in the case noted here, about a vampire highlander. Having seen and met real scotsmen, I can only take this as further evidence that readers of romance novels are dangerously self-delusional and willfully, aggressively divorced from reality.
2:56 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Oh Joy! Oh Bliss!

After a six-day work week of long shifts on my feet, I have three straight days off! And better still, it looks as though the first two of them will be lovely. Today was gorgeous, and tomorrow promises to be the same. Chilly but sunny, and the days are getting noticeably longer. I had considered driving to the coast at some point to have a look around, to see what the Pacific looks like from the northwest. But it's still a bit cold to sit on the beach, and I can't really afford the gas. Give it another month or so, and then maybe it'll be time.

I've got a reasonably long post in the works, but I just don't think I can finish it off decently tonight. I've begun to fret that my posts have gotten way too sloppy over the years -- I can do so much better that this pointless blather. Maybe it's because I'm getting more exposure to good writing, if only via osmosis, that suddenly my own seems so weak by comparison. Or maybe it's just that reading always pushes me, taps into my latent passion. I've been reading a hell of a lot, as I usually do through the winter. But as January winds down, the anticipation of spring starts to creep up on me, and suddenly something in me wants to draw.

Y'know, like pictures.

I got some notice as a child for having some talent with a pencil -- or maybe they were just encouraging me, I don't know. But I think I was genuinely better than what you'd normally expect from an eight-year-old. Even now, when pressed, I can draw better than you'd expect from someone who rarely draws -- I hate my drawings, obviously, I can only see how they fall short of how I'd like to draw. But still, for someone who only picks up a pencil to doodle every couple of years and hasn't applied any effort whatsoever to developing her ability since elementary school, I'm not too bad. If I got a sketch book and started spending just a little time on it every day, in a few years I bet I'd be pretty good. In a decade, I'd probably be as good as I want to be.

If I did any of that, I mean. It's, erm, on my list.

But the significance I take from this impulse is that my creative energy has begun its gradual, seasonal return. I've spent much of the winter storing ideas like acorns in my cheek pouches (I know, eww, right?) And over the next month or two, as the days warm up and get longer, I'll start heading back to all my hidey-holes and... and...

... okay, forget the squirrel metaphor.

The point is, I've got some plans in the works. Or at least ideas for plans. And I know I won't get to all of them, probably only one or possibly two will come to any kind of fruition. But I need that fresh passion, some new influences, some life-changing experiences.

It's coming. I feel it approaching.

PS: I didn't forget, Smithers. I remembered. I was just too exhausted to do anything about it. But I didn't forget. And incidentally, all of that stuff I wrote before about grouchy assholes? You're one of the few to whom that didn't apply. I mean, don't get me wrong, you're definitely grouchy. ;) But you're also honestly open and generous, as you've proven to me consistently over eleven years. And that's why I'll always adore my Smithers.
10:27 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Friday, January 18, 2008
A Futile Attempt To Avoid Going To Work

So, apparently there's going to be a party at my house tonight.

I wasn't consulted beforehand. I'm not pissed off about it or anything -- my current roomies are among the best I've had, found by sheer luck, and I wouldn't begrudge them a party if that's what they want. I wouldn't half mind hanging out with some new people, though just at the moment I'm probably not in the best frame of mind to make the most of it. At 10 o'clock tonight, when I'm just getting home from a ten-hour day of listening to the mind-bogglingly stupid questions of a hundred different strangers, there are things I would rather find waiting for me than a house full of more strangers, except this time with alcohol.

But I will try. I'll try to sit and chat, I'll try to last for at least one or two drinks, I'll try to make it for a couple of hours before I slink off to my room and hide and try to sleep because I still have to work tomorrow. And the next day, and the day after that.

I'm just saying, if they'd asked me, I might've said that some other week would be better. But then again, it probably wouldn't, really. I don't love houses full of strangers that I'm obligated to interact with, so there isn't a "better day" for it as such... I prefer small groups of close friends, just hanging out.

But hey, maybe I'll meet a new close friend tonight, a new hanging-out friend. That would be cool. I don't really have much in the way of hanging-out friends these days -- my current friends are all grouchy. It's weird how that happens -- you meet them, and they seem sweet and open and generous, but once you know them better, it turns out they're really just grouchy. All my friends are assholes. My average friend -- if you took all my most-loved friends and averaged them all together, I mean -- is male, 6 years older than me, has a 50/50 chance of being gay, and is a total asshole. (Though not to me, because being an asshole to me would be like kicking a puppy. It's completely unnecessary, and it only serves to validate one's status as a complete and utter dick.)

It's cool, though. I love them anyway, even when they turn out to be not all that sweet or open, and really just grouchy instead, because that's the deal you make with other people if you want to be actual, genuine friends and not an acquaintance you occasionally invite to a party. If you decide to take someone into your life, even under the false pretense that they're sweet and open and generous, then you have to still love them when they turn out to be a grouchy fucking asshole instead. That is, in fact, the entire point of the exercise.

God, what a load of horseshit. And I still have to go to work. There are a hundred idiots downtown waiting for me to show them books.
12:47 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Does Anybody Love Me?

If they do, they could always buy me this. Some women whore for diamonds and furs, some for upscale living room suites. Me, all I really want is my MST3K back. A girl has to have her priorities straight.

PS: I would soooo have Joel Hodgson's babies.
6:07 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Sunday, January 13, 2008
Time For Stormy Weather

Back in college I had a friend with a talent for coining new slang. One of my favorites was "play local forecast!" -- to be directed at a band that was so hopelessly bad/cheesy/derivative that they might as well start playing the crap heard during the "Local on the 8s" on the Weather Channel. It was "Freebird" for bands consisting of middle-aged white dudes.

But we didn't actually mean it, guys...

At least it serves as a list of performers' names I can now safely ignore.

PS: Speaking of weather, apparently there was a small "tornado" just north of the state line a couple of days ago, and I'm using the word "tornado" in the loosest possible, purely technical sense. There was a bit of localized wind moving in a spiral pattern, and it knocked down a few trees. No one was hurt, no cows were driven head-first intact through telephone poles, and no houses were ripped clean from their foundations and deposited in distant trees. No big whoop.

But damn, it's all people were talking about for two days afterwards. "Did you hear?! A tornado! Oh, I hope I make it home safe!"

Portlanders are very nice people, but they're a bunch of fucking pussies about bad weather.
3:11 AM ::
Amy :: permalink

Saturday, January 12, 2008
Not About Bookstores

Even I am getting sick of talking about Fnorders. So let's talk about something else.

I have had, for reasons that will go unmentioned for now, lots of opportunities to read lately. The one immediate, obvious improvement I've had since moving to Portland has been the sudden accessibility of almost any book my brain fancies, for free, limited only by my ability to carry them back and forth. This is a good thing.

The one I'm reading now is Oliver Sacks' Musicophilia, and it's making me sad. It forces me to acknowledge that, in the end, I'm just not very musical.

Obviously I enjoy music -- if nothing else, the book also makes it clear that to have an intolerance for music is itself a fairly rare and disordered way of being. I respond to music just like most people, and it makes up as large a part of my daily life as it does that of most others. I would hate to be without it. But I don't have any special insight, or any special access. Music doesn't pour out of me the way it clearly does for some. My mind grasps it and understands it in the usual ways, but it's a purely receptive process for me, a one-way street. Music comes in, but it doesn't go back out again. It doesn't even make much impact beyond the sensory level -- my brain can't hold it and manipulate it the way it can other kinds of experience.

Just once, I would love to find out what synesthesia feels like. I can almost imagine it, as if there's some faint glimmer of recognition of something I might've once had but have entirely forgotten. I can try to fake it, but I can't fool myself into believing that what I imagine might be real. I can only sit here and listen with the knowledge that there are people who are enjoying music in ways that I'll never even understand, much less acquire for myself.

Tell me that's not sad.

It has a tendency to lead me to reflect on the way my own mind works, which talents it possesses in compensation for those it doesn't. I seem to have had a lot of conversations lately about the visual/auditory dichotomy -- who has what, and what it means to them. I have a number of friends who are quite emphatically visual, and a few who are more inclined to listen. I know what each looks like. The thing is, I can't ever figure out which one I am.

In school, where this question matters the most (we were told), testing produced inconclusive results -- not strongly inclined either way; or to put it more positively, able to access either with similar results. The same was true for the left-brained, right-brained question: neither one especially, or reasonably suited to both. There's never been a moment of strong identification with either -- I can learn by studying graphs or illustrations, but I can equally learn by listening to a lecture, or doing a lab, or engaging in a discussion. It's all the same to me.

In fact, having lived with this brain for a while now, I think I can say that I really do my best work when I can operate in both spheres (or hemispheres, I suppose) at the same time. My procedural abilities are average, and my creative abilities are average, but applying a process to creativity is something I can be very good at. My richest intellectual experiences have usually come down to conceptual analysis -- taking an idea, taking it apart, and trying to re-assemble it into something new. I'm good with conceptual structures and working through a process. This is how I tend to approach any intractable problem -- I don't "get" music, so maybe if I pull it apart and study its components, I'll find whatever it is that makes it work. Obviously it's not always a successful tactic.

But I look at the medium I've chosen for my own dogged attempts at creativity, and clearly it suits me very well -- partly visual, partly auditory, heavily structured and process-driven, and giving me plenty of space to disassemble and re-assemble my ideas both in my mind and in the physical world.

Maybe I could even simulate synesthesia cinematically. That sounds like an idea worth playing with.
2:05 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Bookstore Anthropology

This last week has seen the arrival of a half-dozen new employees at Fnorders, and with them has come my official promotion from cashier to bookseller. They held another job fair of exactly the kind where I was hired, except this one dwarfed the first one -- whereas I was one of fifty prospectives, this last round brought in a mob of 200 applicants. 180 actually showed up hoping to be interviewed. Twenty were. Two new cashiers and four loss-prevention kids were brought on. But I'm no longer the newest kid on the floor, I'm a holiday-seasoned veteran mentoring the little ones through their first stressful week behind the register.

Or something like that, whatever. I get to spend more time with the books now, that's my point. And one thing I've learned: our store is a fucking mess, almost unsalvageably so. Some of that is just the nature of the beast -- we have a few hundred thousand objects to maintain in some semblance of rational order and not much means of direct control. Stuff gets away from us. Sometimes it literally gets away, since we have one of the highest shoplifting rates in the company.

But mostly it's just asshole customers who don't know how to put a fucking book back on the shelf if they decide they don't want it.

It's interesting to see how this phenomenon breaks down. Manga is horrible; the other graphic novels so bad we've practically given up on them. The romance section is a constant, unrelenting nightmare. Science fiction is almost as bad. The sexuality/erotica section is hilariously disorganized, fifty books a day hurriedly thrown randomly back on the shelf when a stranger walks by. Fiction/literature is normally in decent shape (though often alternating between over-stuffed and depressingly shabby), as is the cooking section. Mystery novels, somehow, seem almost to maintain themselves.

But hands-down, the worst offender is the knitting section.

Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with people who knit? Why can't they put a fucking book back where they got it? Why do I consistently pick up knitting books abandoned all across the store? Why is it that the knitting books are always left on the floor, crammed horizontally onto the wrong shelf, stashed behind other books, re-inserted upside-down and backwards? At least the autistic manga readers have an excuse; I expect more from educated, socially-conscious, post-feminist lesbian mothers. Because those are the people who mostly hang out around the knitting books. Oh, sure, they're all subversive with their "guerilla knitting" and their Stitch-n-Bitch books, whipping out ugly hats for their girlfriends on a fortnightly basis. But this sister would greatly appreciate it if they'd take an extra five seconds to put their books back properly, so we don't have to spend twenty minutes a day entirely re-assembling their destructive handiwork. Just sayin'.

Yesterday I found the most hilarious collection of abandoned books I've seen so far: two books on picking up chicks (aka, "the game"), one Halo 3-based science fiction novel, and an issue of Guns and Ammo magazine. We all had a good chuckle over that one.

And finally, an incomplete list of things I now know never to look for at Fnorders:

Pablo Neruda in spanish
anything on Bahai
Jet magazine
books about cross-country skiing in Oregon
Dorthea Lange monographs
silicone molds for making ice shotglasses
any book that isn't painfully, obnoxiously obvious

It's kind of sad. I feel like I spend more time selling books on behalf of Powells than Fnorders -- somebody asks me for a recommendation, I come up with the perfect answer, only to discover that we don't carry it. We could order it, I say hopefully. "Would Powells have it?" they ask. Yes, probably. What am I supposed to do, lie?

It takes some of the love out of it when you realize that all we really trade in are bestsellers, pulp novels, and high-school-level classics.

We have a surprising number of David Icke books, though.
6:27 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Thursday, January 03, 2008
I Said So All Along

PS: Here's an interesting article.
11:16 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Tuesday, January 01, 2008
Incremental Progress Report

Not much going on, but a few things that occurred just as the year ended:

1) I will be staying on at Fnorders. At least until something better comes along. But I need the paycheck.

2) I will also be staying on at my current residence until the spring. I had a amiable chat with my Head Roommate (ie, the guy that owns the house), and we agreed that we were all officially happy with the arrangement and each other, and that it would be wise and suitable for me to stay for now. Come the spring, he has plans to take in foreign students (he's a former Deadhead and hostel manager, so that's exactly the sort of thing he'd be inclined to do), so at that point he'll need the room available. But I think, by then, that I will also be ready to move on to someplace new, so I think it'll work out just fine. He also dropped my rent considerably (since I'm now a real roomie and not a short-term lodger) because he's a thoroughly decent guy.

3) Tomorrow I'm going to Ikea to buy a small table and a real chair. At present my monitor is set up on a bedside table, and I have to sit on my bed to write. Not conducive to meaningful work. I can't quite swing the desk I really want, but I figure a small table is a useful thing to have wherever you go, and it'll satisfy my needs for a while. But it will be the first piece of actual furniture I've ever bought. Crazy.

4) I have officially decided to shut down this blog. Not right away, of course, and not until I have a new place to post my inane drivellings. But this joint is getting old and musty -- I still use font tags, for pete's sake -- and I can't be bothered overhauling my current arrangements when there are so many newer, better tools available. And the 'Sister Novena' thing just doesn't do it for me anymore. I'm kind of tired of having my virtual life so compartmentalized -- blog over here, film stuff over there, and none of it directly tied to me as a three-dimensional human being. I really want just one central home base on the web. This blog will still be here, of course, but I won't update it anymore, and all my blog-related-programs-activities will shift somewhere else. Anyway, more on that as the situation develops.
7:31 PM ::
Amy :: permalink