Monday, February 23, 2009

To Shelve or Not to Shelve

So the NY Times article about Jane Bites Back came out on Sunday. Well, it really wasn't so much about Jane Bites Back as it was about Seth's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

All right, it wasn't really about Jane Bites Back at all. But I'm still in there, in the last two paragraphs. And two paragraphs in the Times is more than most writers get. So suck it, Joyce Carol Oates. (Disclaimer: JCO is actually super nice. I wrote to her once and she wrote me a really nice letter back.)

Thank you to all three of my friends who wrote to say they saw the piece. The rest of you are jerks.

In other news, I have become more neurotic than ever. Not about the book, although that's part of it. Just about things in general. Money. The state of the world. My hair. And as some of you know, when I get like this I start organizing things. My house is never cleaner than when I have a manuscript due.

Well Patrick already cleaned this week, so there wasn't much to do in that department. Because of this I was forced to do something else to waste time. Specifically, I went to the neighborhood Borders bookstore. I've recently taken to reading again after a foray into reality television (America's Next Top Model is brilliant television. No, it is.) and have gotten really into mystery/suspense/thriller stuff. A month or so ago I picked up Reliquary by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child and couldn't put it down. As usually happens when I find something that holds my attention for more than five seconds I decided to read everything the two of them have done together. Hence my trip to Borders.

I don't know if you've been in a Borders lately. Or, I suspect, any chain bookstore. Well, at some point they appear to have stopped being bookstores and instead become clearing houses for piles of crap. The place was stacked with those big, ugly "gift books" about crocheting pet sweaters and planting container gardens in old bleach bottles. Worse, the ratio of books to non-book items was low. Very low. They actually had displays of lip gloss.

Anyway, I get that times have changed. The internet. Video games. Second Life. Blah blah blah. And bookstores have to adapt. Whatever. Still, it was kind of weird. I tried to ignore it all as I went to look for the books I wanted.

Only I couldn't find them. First I tried Horror, which is where I'd found the first one (but not at Borders, at my neighborhood shop). Nothing. Then I tried Mystery. Nada. I even looked in General Fiction. Not a trace. But when I used the helpful computer terminal thingy to look up Preston and Childs it assured me that they were there.

I went back to Horror and looked again. After a moment I realized the problem--the books were all out of order. Not just a little bit, but totally and utterly jumbled together with absolutely no regard for alphabetization. Douglas Clegg was next to Dan Simmons. Poor Robert McCammon was scattered between all the shelves as if he'd been drawn and quartered. In short, nothing was where it was supposed to be.

This was annoying for many reasons. First, it was untidy. Second, if you can't find a book you can't buy a book. As a reader that makes me crazy; as an author it makes me resent the thirty-two cents I'm losing every time someone can't find one of my books and leaves empty handed.

The only choice, obviously, was to clean everything up. Which is what I did. It took me the better part of an hour, but by the time I was done every single book was where it was supposed to be. Clegg was on the first shelf next to Ramsey Campbell. Simmons followed John Saul. And Preston and Childs, who I found languishing incorrectly between Lovecraft and Dean Koontz, were finally where they should have been all along.

It is interesting to note that during my re-shelving undertaking not one, not two, not three, but four Borders associates walked by. Not one noticed the piles of books on the floor, or me busily arranging them. Two customers, however, asked me where they could find specific titles: Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love and Stock Investing for Dummies. I am pleased to say I was able to help them, even though they were totally not in my section.

When everything was as it should be I took my Preston and Child books and went to pay for them. At the register I was greeted cheerfully by one of the quartet of oblivious book elves who had walked past me while I was cleaning up the shelves. "And did you find everything you were looking for today?" he asked.

I think I should be commended for not smacking him. And I am so sending Borders a bill for that hour.


andystomato said...

Thanks for this. I work in a tiny independent bookstore in San Francisco and sometimes I worry when some of the sections get a little messy. I always assume that's the one advantage that the big chains would have -everything would be clean and new and in perfect order. Now I won't feel so bad when I find a stray Hemingway shelved after Hesse once in a while.

Opus73 said...

Back in college, I managed a couple of B&N stores. The company, though now the biggest, sleaziest corporate book whore of them all, was a good one to work for up until the late '90s. Their "efficiency experts" went through and turned it sour with their ridiculous micromanagement of everything. Since then, the stores have been short-staffed, managers are overworked and vastly underpaid, and employees are stressed out, unable to complete a lot of their organizing/zoning work to their previously decent standards. Everyone but the managers are only part-time now so the company won't have to pay their benefits. Glad I left when I did and haven't even been back to shop there.

Belladonna1975 said...

I wasn't going to comment. I am usually much more of a blog lurker but....I was looking for information about Jane Bites Back (thanks to the Times article reprinted on Shelf Awareness) and I stumbled across your blog. I used to work at Borders. I was one of very few dedicated employees who had actually read a book, knew where they were located and found joy in helping people connect with books. I and 2 of my friends were fired on the same day for some trumped up reason I wont go into but I have to say that it has all just been downhill for them from there. Now they are peopled with 18 year olds who couldn't tell a Nietzsche from a napsack. Sad but true. I will stick to Half-Price books in Dallas where the employees actually know what they are talking about and the ratio of books to "stuff" is much more appealing.

The Curmudgeon said...

I am a jerk. Mea culpa. I saw it but didn't send my accolades. Congrats!!


Melissa Jarvis said...

Would you like a job at my library? I need shelvers and reference. You'd have to be nice to the patrons, though...

Anonymous said...

So, you ditched me on MySpace...had to follow you over to here. *wink* That's cool. Just glad you're still at it, chief!

Wiccanpiper said...

Ha, years ago I was a manager at Crown Books (anyone remember them) in San Jose, and my district manager (the guy everyone thought I was going out with) would have KILLED me if I'd let any sections get that out of order.

Now I'm a techie, but I miss the pre-BIG-chains book business.