02 February 2009

The Strange Phenomenon of Bookseller Guilt

My colleague Emily RM and I frequently chat about what we're reading, but it's what we're *not* reading that looms over us and tends to make us feel guilty. It's a bit peculiar, really. She's the Odyssey Bookshop events coordinator, I'm one of the buyers, and we're both on the selection committee for our First Editions Club (forthwith, FEC). So between our various job descriptions we generally have a lot of books to read. She had a recent post about juggling 8 books at a time. I don't have quite that many going at the moment, but I've always got at least three books in various stages of reading.

Sometimes, though, we (gasp!) stop reading for work and start reading for our own pure-dee pleasure. Usually the guilt kicks in if I merely contemplate re-reading Jane Austen or picking up a backlist book that I never got around to when it was new. But it's the fanfiction reading that really takes my guilt to a whole new level. I *love* Harry Potter fanfiction. Romance, adventure, slash, angst, alternate universe: I love it all. Give me Snape/Hermione. Or Draco/Harry. Or Cho/Ginny. Or Aberforth/goat. I'm not particular. If it's well done and if it makes me able to forget the travesty that was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, chances are good that you can find me hunkered down in my bed late at night, feverishly reading it. And if it verges into smutdom, so much the better. My husband calls them my Dirty Harry stories and fancies himself quite clever for doing so.

Anyway...fanfiction or not, this is the kind of reading that makes me feel guilty. If some of my colleagues have read a book and loved it, and I'm in the middle of it and having a pretty good time myself, sometimes guilt will make me put it down. After all, that title will be lovingly handsold to customers without my help, and there are so many other titles out there that customers won't know about if I don't read them and spread the word. I've put down quite a few good books in 2008 because I was feeling guilty that too many booksellers had already read them. No doubt if I pick them up in a few years to finish reading them, I'll feel guilty about that, too. Among the neglected titles were Dennis Lehane's The Given Day, David Wroblewski's The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, and Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies. All of these books were excellent, at least the parts that I had go to by the time I put them down. Alas, my coworkers and colleagues finished them first and guilt compelled me to pick up other titles instead.

Maybe I need a bit of therapy to get past the guilt, but as it turns out the Emilys are not alone. When I was at Winter Institute I discussed this bookseller guilt with a few other folks who reported similar reactions and feelings. One of my belated resolutions for this year, then, is to embrace whatever forms and whatever directions my reading takes me. If that means slash or smut, or if it means sticking with a book I love all the way to the end, despite my entire staff's having already read it, so be it.

1 comment:

  1. You go girl!!!! Guilt is bad! Fanfiction is good! :) While I vehemently disagree with you about HP and the DH, I totally support all non-work, non-serious reading. I know what you mean about reading guilt.... these days (i.e. post-graduate school, which is at 8+ years now!) I can't enjoy reading anything but fiction or memoirs.... nothing historical, theoretical, serious non-fiction, etc. I occasionally feel guilty, but then I b-slap myself and say "snap out of it!" and go back to lovely reading. :) As part of your resolution this year, I encourage you to read 2 great dog books by Merrill Markoe - "Walking in Circles Before You Lie Down" and "Nose Down, Eyes Up". I LOVE them! Her website is: http://www.merrillmarkoe.com/start.html. Enjoy!


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