I work at a local independent bookstore. I love my job. After over three months, last night my manager asked if I could make a display. We have a spot where we generally do themed displays, either all of one author or somehow connected to one issue or genre. It’s always the manager or the owner choosing the display. This was a big deal for me.
If Barnes & Noble is struggling, you can imagine what a small independent bookstore is up against, with amazon, kindle, audible, etc. pulling business away. And yet here we are. Still working and still keeping the shop alive and vibrant. Something I believe is so important. The power of a local bookstore and suddenly my own power to choose which books are featured. (For most of my time working here my “Staff Pick” book has been “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander, and copies have been selling, so I have had that opportunity. But this was bigger. A whole three shelves!)
I gave my decision great deal of thought. There is the question of what will sell. Which books we have too many copies of that we would like to move to make space for new books. Which books will make better holiday gifts. Which books are more expensive…i.e. will help our business. I considered several options though I knew I would end up executing my gut-instinct plan. Toni Morrison.
We have nine of her books, one of each copy, and I couldn’t think of a more brilliant, articulate, relevant writer to put front and center in our store. Who knows, maybe the display will be taken down by my next shift–because they won’t sell, or because they aren’t our priority for selling right now, or because they aren’t christmas-y enough, etc. But it means something to me that even for just a day people will stop and ponder Toni Morrison, her work, and what she has contributed to the literary and political canon at large. Maybe someone who has never read her will consider checking out “Beloved” from the library. Maybe a white mother will buy “The Bluest Eye” and read it with her grown daughter and discuss what their shared blue eyes have meant for their lives. Maybe someone will start a book-group. Maybe nobody will notice. These are the risks we take. Knowing nothing could happen. Trying anyway, for the slim chance that something just might.