Friday, June 8, 2007

The art and pleasures of bookselling

Last night four of us Deweys were on hand to toast the career of a dear friend of mine who is retiring at the end of the month after nearly 30 years in the book business. I worked with Nick Pashley for nine years and consider him my mentor; he taught me everything I know about the book business, showed me by example how bookselling is truly an art, and inspired a real love in me for the industry. With all of its various quirks and frustrations - uncooperative computer systems, never-ending piles of catalogues, finicky authors and rude customers, long hours and little pay (no one ever becomes a bookseller to make money), the rewards can sometimes seem few and far between. But they remain surprisingly humble: having a book in stock that a customer has desperately been searching for, or putting a great book into someone's hands and having her or him return to tell you how much they enjoyed reading it. That's truly the best feeling in the world. Nick is one of the wittiest people I know (if you are a regular reader of the U of T Bookstore Review you will be familiar with his funny and perceptive book reviews and columns) and the messiest - the tottering piles of books, catalogues and stray bits of paper in his office is legendary (and inspiring)! He is also an author -try and get your hands on a copy of his wonderful book, Notes On A Beermat. He plans to spend a good deal of his retirement reading in various pubs in Toronto. You'll recognize him when you see him - he'll be the guy in the corner with a pint and a copy of a P.G. Wodehouse or Iris Murdoch novel. It feels like the end of an era - but it was a wonderful party filled with dozens of fellow booksellers, reps, editors and other industry types paying tribute to one of Canada's most-loved trade buyers.

I was thinking of Nick while reading Lewis Buzbee's memoir The Yellow-Lighted Bookstore. This lovely little book is in part a history of bookselling and part a series of meditations on being both a bookseller and then a publisher's sales rep in the days before chain stores and internet commerce. For those already in the business, it's a timely reminder of why we love our jobs; for those curious about the industry, it's a great introductory primer and an ode to the physical bricks and mortar bookstore.

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