Yesterday a friend came in to the bookstore. With his two adorable tiny dogs. You might say customer, or even “regular,” since he has stopped by a handful of times since we opened. But, even though I had never met him before he walked into the store for the first time, I would say friend. He has gotten to know me. I have gotten to know him. He has gotten to know my son and daughter when they’ve been at the store, and they’ve never met a stranger. I’ve gotten to know his sweet pups. He cares about us, and we care about him. Also, he doesn’t really like to read, a pre-requisite for most of my “regular” book store customers. So, I won’t call him a customer. I’ll call him a friend. I’ve gotten used to him stopping by and hanging out at the store in the afternoons, and it’s always a blessing to us when he does. There is good conversation to be had.
Yesterday, my friend asked about the excess of books I have stacked above the usable shelving, out of the way. He was the second person to ask about them this week. I told him that at this point their greater worth is as a conversation piece than as books themselves. See, there is a story behind these books. Right now, they are piled up, on the highest shelf, facing the wall. All anyone can see is their pages facing when you look up. People are more curious about them because they’re turned inward. They wonder what books are up there. Nothing special really. All kinds of books are up there. Cookbooks, art books, fiction, non-fiction, best sellers, one-hit wonders, anything. My friend reached up and teased one off the shelf to see what he would find, like hunting for treasure. It wasn’t anything he wanted of course, and once he could see the cover it was unremarkable in every way. He put it back.
I’m not one of those people that thinks books are a “decoration” or that their splashy and random colors and patterns somehow detract from the calm on the shelves. I love the patchwork quality of the chaos that occurs on the rest of my shelves. But these books, on the tippy top, are too high to reach. I have to do most of the reaching on the shelf below that one; the lucky heredity of abnormally long arms. Knowing that even I could not reach this elevation without a ladder, I faced the books in, instead of out, to make it obvious that they were not yet available for sale. I haven’t even priced these books. I recognize that this lackluster explanation for my backwards books makes them less interesting and may diminish their effect on conversation.
But, there is a bigger story here…
First, why are the books there in the first place? Why these books? I’ll tell you. Friends are great. Hampton is a very small town. And finding yourself, halfway through life, at a place where people rally around you and come together just because you want to do some dumb thing you’ve always dreamed of and have finally had the courage enough (turned breakneck crazy enough) to do, is as uplifting as it is humbling. This is where I have found myself. And a friend of a friend knew someone whose friend used to own a used bookstore in the area. And because I have, through no fault of my own, become special enough for my friend and their friend to talk about the crazy things I do in a positive way, their outer circle of people I would have never met know about me and want to help. So, even though I have no fear of my steadily building first month’s of inventory, I make the calls, I contact the previous owner of said bookstore, and over the course of two days load carefully packed boxes of books in my car and bring them to the store. And it’s exciting. And it’s overwhelming. And there are WAY too many books in the store.
In the beginning “unpacking” stage, I have illusions of organizing the shelves differently. Surely more books could fit. Then I rearrange some sections, moving whole genres from one end of the store to the other. And back. And then again to a new spot. Then I have more selves built! And I rearrange books again. By the second stage of unpacking I resign that I cannot possibly put anymore books on the shelves. I’l have to store the rest somehow. Up toward the ceiling they go.
The story ended there for a while.
As the days passed in the last few months I didn’t think much about the books near the ceiling. I do think often about the premium commodity of space and my lack of it. I think I have tried everything practical to squeeze extra books in where I hadn’t thought before.
But, without thinking about it day to day, I’ve added more books. Of course I have. I’ve added a LOT more books. People bring in books every day. I hate to ever turn them down. Sometimes they take few out with them, and sometimes they don’t. I’ve boxed up some books to donate to the city jail where I volunteer. And some kind folks have “shopped local” and bought books. But, I’ve taken in a LOT of books, and I’m still taking them. The reality right now is that a lot more books come in than go out. And that’s ok. It’s a good problem to have by comparison. I have a large, varied and ever expanding inventory to shop. And the percentages tend toward my favor in terms of prices going out versus trade credit coming in. I chose to think and hope that one day the scales will tip, more books will make their way out. But until that happens, the backward books will have to stay up on the top shelf.
Now when I think about the day I stashed all those books I couldn’t find room for, I have to laugh at how many more I have made room for since then. It’s not unlike having your first child and loving them so much that you can’t imagine room in your heart to love anything more than them. You question that there won’t be enough love to go around for your second child. But then they’re here and you love them just as much. Or maybe it’s when you find your path and realize your passions in life. You laugh at the years before that, how you used to think you were so busy that you couldn’t possibly add one more thing, and realize you have, in fact, made time for so much more.
Fullness is a hard thing to measure. But sitting with my new friend and laughing about those backwards books, I realized something I knew already. There’s always room. You can always make room for more friends, family, love, joy and goodness in your life. And books. And ice cream.
Thanks for reading. And thanks for encouraging me to live my dreams. Backwards books are just part of it.