I’ve found the perfect job for me: shelving books in a used-book store.
It doesn’t pay much and there’s no end to it but while I’m at it the world is a much more manageable place. There are achievable goals in short increments. There’s a satisfaction from completing tasks but enough variation and creativity to keep the work from becoming a monotonous bore. I can see myself doing it as long as I can still bend down and get back up.
I’m at Tangible one day and Joe complains it’s hard to get anyone to help him put books away. Boxes, crates, and paper bags of them come in every day. Donations and gifts from neighborhood people clearing out the homes of recently-deceased relatives or elderly hoarders trying to get a handle on their condition. Whatever the provenance, in Bridgeport, Joe is the beneficiary.
After sorting the books he thinks he can sell from ones to be taken to the thrift-store donation box, Joe makes stacks and towers divided by category. They wait on the big table by the door until he has the time or help to shelve them in History, Women’s Studies, Young Adult, Mystery, or an ever-expanding number of other categorized areas.
My first day I stick to Fiction. I alphabetize the books in New Arrivals, then take them three or four or six at a time to their proper shelf and wedge them in where they belong. Some shelves won’t take another paperback, so I have to move three or four books down or up to make room. Because they were printed anywhere from the late nineteenth century to this year, there’s no consistency in width, height, or style of tome. It’s a hodge-podge organized by alphabet and theme rather than aesthetic or chronological criteria.
There are personal choices at play as well. Joe has Chuck Klosterman’s books in Fiction, for instance. I question this—thinking of Klosterman more as a pop culture essay writer—but Joe just says to put it in Fiction. It’s his store. Not unlike the decor and organization of a home, a bookstore—or any kind of store that isn’t algorithmically assembled—is a kind of illustration of the owner’s mind.
Four hours pass before I empty the New Arrivals but I barely notice. Doing this scratches an itch. It’s satisfying in ways very few things I do ever are. Painting and writing are open-ended and ever-changing. There’s rarely a time when I feel a true feeling of completion. But when I pick up Volume III of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey slot it between Volume I and Volume IV, that’s all there is to it.
Can’t wait to go back and see what goes where next time.