Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Bookstore Gatekeepers

I love bookstores. The very smell of them makes me happy. I walk into one, breathe deeply, and look for the longest aisle to lose myself in. I love the hush that comes over people as they enter a bookstore; as if it’s a library, as if it’s a monastery where you can lose yourself and meditate for awhile on the meaning of life. Well, either you can meditate on it or you can meditate on what others have decided is the meaning of life. There are millions of printed words, and there are so many of them, under so many different categories and titles, that I can spend hours wandering step by step over the carpeted floors, covering next to no ground and reading the backs of so many books that my vision starts to swim before I’m done.
At least, that’s how my bookstore experiences used to be. Now, when I enter a bookstore, I see hundreds, perhaps thousands of books that are not mine. These are authors that defied the odds, defied the disbelief of their friends and family, and managed to get an agent or a publisher to read their work and think it was worth putting in a bookstore. Each of the books I pick up is a challenge to my ego: I could so write something better than this, or oh my goodness, I am not worthy. Imagine if you were a budding musician who walked into a store to buy a new guitar and Santana was standing there twanging away on the very guitar you wanted to hold. When you started to back away, you realized that all the customers in that music store were big names in the industry, and suddenly you felt like a fool even calling yourself a musician. Heck, even the music that you consider dumb and uninteresting is still represented, and your clumsy attempts at harmony are not.
I go back and forth on this. A part of me despairs at the number of titles, authors, very human beings that are in front of me in the publishing line. Even if you don’t consider those people, there are millions of books already out there – why would someone want to read mine that hasn’t yet been published yet?
However, another part of me takes in these bookstores with a glass-half-full optimism. If this fucktard of an author was published, why shouldn’t I be? Sometimes I pick up books, read the back, read the first page and know, without a doubt, that I can entertain better than this person. Maybe not everyone, but what I have to say is much more interesting to the people that I want to interest. That’s the beauty of reading – there’s something out there for everyone. If you have an interest, there’s a book that will address it, and not just one, many! My book, my point of view, while similar to many others out there, is still my intellectual property. No one else can come up with exactly what I can, and in that I have an advantage. Hell, everyone has an advantage, but I have the additional advantage of having written my book already – the biggest step. I have made it past the point of saying, “I always wanted to write a book.” Write book? Check. Big, mother-fucking CHECK. Now comes the Olympic pole vault through the gatekeepers. They can be mean, ugly creatures, but there’s a good reason for them to be there. They’re there so that bookstores, the places I hold sacred, despite my jealousy, can remain sacrosanct. The gatekeepers are there to ensure that you can walk into one and know that you will find good writing, an interesting subject, and, for the most part, a plot that will stand up to scrutiny and characters who will not blink after they’re supposed to be dead. Yes, I am sitting here jobless because of the gatekeepers, but I consider their role as important as the people who write aptitude tests for any life-threatening job. Because really, who wants a nurse who didn’t pass her boards, or an architect who doesn’t know how to design a building that will stand? No one. Would bookstores be the same places if just anyone were allowed to sell their work there? No. Which will make it even sweeter when I can walk into one and find my book sitting on one of its shelves, full of words and smelling sweetly of success.

Love and bookstore kisses

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