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April 3rd, 2006

The Company of Readers

One of the things I love about my day job as a used bookseller is that it keeps me connected to (other) readers. I think sometimes we, as authors, forget about the flesh-and-blood audiences we're writing for; it can seem like some amorphous blob that can be exploited or can even become hostile. We get isolated, and when we try to rejoin the world of society we find we have little in common with most people.

Well, that's because sadly - in America, at least - most people aren't readers.

But damn - readers are the most wonderful people on earth. It stands to reason, doesn't it, that people who read will be more imaginative, less conventional, and better educated.

We just finished two long weeks of moving our bookstore. It was an astonishing amount of work, and we did it with the help of a corps of volunteers that were absolute pinnacles of hard work and dedication. And some of the most interesting people I've had the pleasure of hanging with in some time:

J.B. - a 6'5" former electrical engineer who decided, about 7 years back, to leave the rat race behind and now lives in his van (he hasn't paid rent since 1998). He's made two counter-clockwise tours of the U.S., and has moved several bookstores (he's also worked on satellites, driven trucks and worked at K-Mart). He also confessed to me he gets laid more now.

Janet - cute 30something ex-Deadhead who could lift darn near as much as the boys and had more stamina, to boot. She told me her dad owns a construction company, and she always wanted to be working out with the guys, not stuck doing office work. Awesome.

Dave - we nicknamed him "Doctor Dave" for his encyclopedic knowledge of useful herbs (which he wasn't afraid to dole out to us, thank goodness). Ran Tower Record's classical section for years, funny, erudite, and has the dream of moving to northern Thailand (away from the monsoons) to start his own farm.

Sarah - an accountant at Warner Bros. by day, super bookstore volunteer by night. She cracked us all up with her stories of Warner Bros. motivational techniques of handing out gold stars to employees. ADULT employees, mind you.

There were nearly a dozen others whom I won't mention now, but they were all delightful people. They took only books in return for their labours, and were thrilled when we handed them all massive credit slips for books.

So, writers, my advice: Spend some time with readers. You'll almost feel like a happy social animal again.