Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas in the Bookstore

It’s hard to write about Christmas without resorting to maudlin platitudes, crass commercialism, miserable complaints or childlike retarded cheer. The only good thing about writing about Christmas is that you’re certain to offend someone and it’s easy to pretend innocence as to why. But enough. Christmas at Beazley Books is like Martin Luther King Day in Moscow....subdued. No Christmas music, surreptitious drinking beginning at noon, and calm people (see: drinking beginning at noon).

I like Christmas in the bookstore because it’s easy to pretend it’s 1842. People come in with lists of names, not lists of gifts. They spend a lot of time looking for the right gift for Aunt Sophie who had very poor judgment in her youth and Uncle Norm who really should have known better last summer in Cuba. Sometimes people wake me up and ask for advice about what to get for a sibling or a friend but usually they know better and make their own mistakes. Some people stumble in from an afternoon of Christmas shopping and become disoriented. No music, no tinsel.

But there’s one evil even the bookstore strains to keep at bay: the It’s-For-A- Good-Cause people trolling for money (in 1842 they were called beggars and you were allowed to kick them). I keep a sharp machete on the counter to discourage them but some have religion and are drawn to martyrdom. I am not completely without a heart, however. If the spirit moves you this year, you can make a cash donation to: The Beazley Books Fund for the Enrichment of Beazlies.

Monday, September 27, 2010

If you thought that was rude...

Sometimes people mistake me for a big box store clerk and get angry when I call them impertinent. But I'm happy to report that the great majority of my customers are very pleasant. And since I enjoy calling rude people names, I figure that means that I like all my customers.

Of course some are sort of scary like the woman without pants who came in last week to sell me a book, and sure her flannel shirt was long but not long enough. And the gypsy woman with electrical white hair and Alice Cooper-caught-in-the-rain make-up who drinks too much and keeps trying to leave the store through the window.

And sometimes I hear things that I know will stay with me until I die, like the woman who insisted that human twins sometimes eat each other in the mother's womb. Now fetal cannibalism is an alarming concept but far worse is the succession of middle-aged guys who have been leaning on my counter telling me about their weird medical problems and how I'm probably suffering from all their creepy afflictions too but I just don't know it. Well here's the thing, I don't want to know and one day when the doctor tells me I'm doomed because they didn't detect the damned thing early enough I'll say Feh! and pour another drink.

Note to wife: I want my tombstone to say "You're Next, And It Really Really Hurts."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Why I Lie About What I Read....

I stopped reading serious literature years ago but people assume that because I’m surrounded by good literature I must be reading it. Well let me tell you that once you begin on the trashy stuff you don’t go back. So when an earnest teenager asks me what I think of Gravity’s Rainbow, I make a little humming sound and hope he mistakes my cluelessness for tongue-tied awe. And when a professor compares the work of several well-known poets whom I’ve never even heard of, and being professorial he is quite content to talk about it without soliciting my opinion, I simply nod here and there and laugh knowingly at the right parts. Sometimes I laugh knowingly at the wrong parts and get an odd look. But here’s what I don’t get and it happens every day. A woman is browsing and picks up a book titled something like Heart and Soul about a woman who discovers herself. Probably in Tuscany. She holds up the book and asks, have you read this? I answer that its women’s fiction and no man in his right mind would even pick up the book, what with all the pastel colors and squiggly fonts. She proceeds to inform me that she knows a man who has read it (a damn lie) and that I shouldn’t be such a sexist. Novels are not, she declares, gender specific. Her confidence in this theory is severely shaken however when she glances down and spies what I'm reading, a 1952 science-fiction novel called Alien Brain-Eaters, its cover a red dagger-toothed alien vomiting brains onto a near-naked girl.

Friday, August 20, 2010

How Not to Sell Your Books....

It was 9:30 pm and I was finishing my second vodka and trying to figure out how to smoke a cigar without my wife smelling it on me. The phone rang and I ducked thinking it’s my wife and what the hell, is she reading minds now? But it wasn’t her. Instead an old-lady crinkly voice demanded to know if I bought comic books. I could tell from the way she talked that she smelled funny. Maybe like one of those European cheeses with high bacteria counts that people are leery of. Anyway, she wanted to meet in the parking lot across the street from the store, the comic books were in the trunk of her car she said. The drug dealer aspect of all this should have rang some alarms, but I agreed to it and the next morning when I saw her I knew that this would not end well. She was about 70, had a silver buzz-cut and the eyes of a Viet-Cong sniper. She popped the trunk and I looked down at the box of shabby Archie comics and I said $20. Ha! she snarls, you ain’t low balling me and she slams the trunk on my head. I say ouch (or maybe shit) but she keeps the trunk door pressed against my head. Now I’ve watched Goodfellas at least a dozen times so I knew it was touch and go at this point. I said Lady, you’ve got to let me get my head out and she glared at me while I moved my head out of range. Maybe I should’ve offered $30.

Later the same day, an elderly man with an iron-curtain accent and a disapproving wife came in with what looked like an inflated pizza delivery bag, the kind with the aluminum foil lining on the inside. The wife said “these are good books” and he says “good books”. She says “these books are worth money” and he says “worth money”. I look inside the bag and it looks like the books were flung into it during a regime-change evacuation panic. The aluminum foil is a little weird so I ask them if the books are radioactive. This must be a standard question where they’re from because she looks solemn and shakes her no but he looks a little guilty and says you look at books, we go for ice cream. At the door, she turns around and warns “they’re counted” and he says “counted!” I decided the books were radioactive after all and went for lunch.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Review of THE STRAIN by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

Nosferatu meets CSI.

Vampire literature thrives on contrast. Victorian readers once yawned at bizarre doings in Carpathian Mountains but shivered when Bram Stoker’s Dracula appeared in the city of London. Legions of writers have since inflamed this contrast until it has become positively bi-polar, giving us bloodsuckers as southern gentlemen, little girls, rebellious teenagers, space aliens and a even a librarian. And now worms. Well, why not.

The authors were perhaps over-enthused with the possibilities presented by Vampires, endowing them with so many physiological horrors that a biologically confusing monster emerges. But they are entirely clear in one regard: sex. Vampire tales usually slide easily into sex and sexiness but there’s nothing remotely sexy about these creatures; they are simply repulsive. As it should be, too.

I would have enjoyed more surprises and plot twists, but the story rips along just fine and dialogue is expertly executed. There is much unnatural ghastliness here, and a couple scenes that are stunningly revolting.

The Strain is frighteningly well written and a compelling read.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A conversation in a bookshop....

The following exchange took place in June of 2010 in Beazley Books. It is, as far as I can remember, word-for-word true (God have mercy on my shrivelled soul)

Normal Looking Customer: Do you have any books on Egypt?
Me: Modern or ancient?
NLC: Ancient.
Me : Yes, I have several... here they are.
NLC: Oh, but I’m looking for old books.
Me : I have that. ... here they are.
NLC: Well, I’m really looking for old French books.
Me : I have it is. A three volume history of Egypt published in Paris in 1940. Not so old that the French is any different than today’s (ha ha)
NLC: Well, I don’t read French but I intend to learn one day. I’m in these books you know.
Me : I didn’t know, actually.
NLC: Well I am. In a previous life, I was an Egyptian Queen so I’m certainly in those books.
Me : Which one?
NLC: I don’t know. Volume one I expect.
Me : No, I mean which Queen were you.
NLC: Oh, well, one of them. I must have been an important one because otherwise I wouldn’t remember it, would I.
Me : Hmm, I see your point. Well, these books are $120. A real steal. They’re worth $300.
NLC: Oh, I don’t have any money. I was just curious about what books you had. Maybe I’ll have some money if I can find a job. You wouldn’t by any chance be hiring would you?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Pierre's Perspective: I know I can be insufferable...

Beazley Books has a great selection of reasonably priced used books. But what the hell does “reasonably” mean? I for one am rarely accused of being reasonable and think it’s much better to live dangerously or at least to pretend to do so.

People often come into the store and say things like “you’re so lucky to have a bookstore” and I pretend that’s it’s not really a great thing because if I told them the truth that, that yes, it’s so great that I worry Mother Nature might try to balance things out, if I told them this, then those poor wretches would start feeling crappy and ask for the Self-Help section which I don’t have and refuse to carry because except for old Dale Carnegie I think it’s mostly crap. And what the hell is all this about Self-Help anyway? If you’ve screwed up your life that badly do you really think a book by some poufy haired pathological extrovert is going to help you? Do like I do and pour yourself a double. Problem solved.

Other people come into the store to put brochures and a box on my counter to collect money and then they expect to come back and take the box and money away. Sometimes these people are hard to understand, like the guy this morning that said his brochures were to promote the rectal stealth monk. Now I’m an open minded guy but I thought surely the church had put a stop to that stuff so I said, Gee, even the monks are getting into the act now? That’s when I saw his brochure and read Dental Health Month. Well, get the hell out of my store, I said, I don’t want my customers to associate shopping here with teeth decay and gum fungus.

Then there was the fellow who began chuckling while browsing and when I innocently said ‘found a good book did you?’ he answered ‘no’ in that tone of voice one reserves for the particularly dense and continued ‘you placed a copy of Drabble in the mysteries section.’ Ah, those old mis-shelved Drabble jokes....

Now if you’ve ever wondered if store staff listens to your private conversations with friends, well, we do. And the more private, the better. Yesterday, I overheard a fellow telling his buddy that ‘when civilization falls and the lights go out I’m going to visit that SOB in the night with a knife in my teeth and make him scream for a week.’ When I gathered that he was speaking about his accountant my estimation of him improved. My next novel will be titled Vampire Accountants (I know, I know it’s redundant).

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Review: Hunting Eichmann by Neal Bascomb

It’s been 50 years now so we can finally know how it really happened. And what a story it is. The Mossad is portrayed in a sober, warts and all fashion that takes nothing away from their ingenuity and heroism. Eichmann is not described in a hyperbolic fashion; a description of his war-time activities is enough, and oblique reference is made, inevitability, to the banality of evil. Despite knowing the outcome, the book reads like a well written edge- of- your- seat thriller. The significance of the trial taking place in Israel against the backdrop of a growing amnesia in the West regarding Jewish suffering during the war is a fresh perspective on what is often perceived to be a simple act of retribution.

A thoroughly good read. I recommend it highly.
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