Because I Say So

Some “rare yet regular” customers who visit family twice a year were here yesterday. As the husband browsed Classics, he asked, “How do you decide which books are classics? I mean, I can see anything by Nathaniel Hawthorne, but you’ve got Joyce Carol Oates here, too.”

Jack gave the usual response: “If we like them.” Which caused the husband to guffaw.

There’s nothing quite like running one’s own shop. No corporate manual: “If the book is older than 75 years and has been assigned to more than one literature department in two disparate American states, OR if the book is foreign and written within the last 20 years and has been assigned …”

Peh. We thought Eileen Goudge and Louise Erdrich had good things to say, so there they sit in perpetuity, conversing with Faulkner between them. Of course, if I had my way, John Irving would be in the bargain basement, but one does bend to certain commonly-held sensibilities.

It’s the Margaret Atwoods, Cormac McCarthys and Robert James Wallers that prove tricky. They’re in, they’re out, they’re hot, they’re not, a movie’s getting made…. We joke about putting up a revolving shelf with the heading “Your 15 Minutes Starts Now.”

But for the most part, we find few people worrying about what’s where. If you can’t find it in Southern Fiction, try Classics, then General Fiction or Historical Fiction. Most serious second-hand book  shoppers WANT to browse. It’s part of the pleasure, to crack the code and get into the heads of the bookslingers organizing that particular shop. That’s how you know you’re on the inside, when you can tell other people where to find Ludlum, Flynn, Higgins and Forsyth–Mysteries and Thrillers, or Guys with Big Guns (aka Westerns and War)?

OK, that’s a trick question, because on any given day, Jack will stick them in one category, and I in the other.

A bookshop divided against itself cannot stand. I finally put a note on the Mysteries and Thrillers room door: “If it’s a political thriller having to do with spies or war, try the Guys with Big Guns room first. Because that’s where Jack puts them.”

It’s upped traffic back there. And earned my husband sympathetic comments.