Sunday morning at the Galaxy Bookshop and The Beatles Anthology is still piled high after a busy Saturday. This is no best-seller town, and the book at the top of the best-seller lists has been far outsold in Hardwick this week by Love, Sex and Tractors, the Logger 2001 calendar, The Vermont Owner's Manual, and We Die Alone, a true story of survival from World War II that involves heroic cross-country skiing in Norway. The best sellers are here too, but in ratios the reverse of what you might find elsewhere. The Beatles Anthology, yes, but also, Images of America: Caledonia County. On the cover, a picture from this town's more prosperous times, a huge granite block moving down muddy Main Street on the back of a wagon pulled by oxen in 1894. I have sold half a case of these so far, customers proudly showing me pictures of family and friends as they buy it. The O'Reilly Factor is here and was outsold by a factor of seven this week by The Fall of the Year, a coming-of-age story set in the almost mythic Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. This is no best-seller town.
The weather today is dreadful, unremitting rain taking away the snow, the warm air a gloomy gray, water running everywhere. Soon Santa will need a pontoon boat. I sell some Christmas cards and field a few phone calls, but mostly I take advantage of the rare quiet to run the week's best-seller report and think about what to restock. It's a balancing act in this final week before Christmas—I want the store to look bountiful, abundant with inviting books, but on the other hand I don't want to start a lean January with too many books. As if there ever could be too many books, a seeming oxymoron, unless you are trying to pay for all of them.
I also pull together the special orders. This is the week when I should start replying to frantic phone calls in the negative, "No, I'm sorry, Customer X, I'm afraid I won't be able to get you a copy of Radar, Hula Hoops, and Playful Pigs in time for Christmas." But, as if someone has challenged me to make it across the tracks before the train comes, I say, "Well, it is cutting it a little close, but I'll do my best and give it a try." On the other end of the phone or on the other side of the counter, these people are both trusting and disbelieving—if it can be done, I will do it, but how could I? Which makes every success like a magic act, me here hoping I can pull it off, hoping they'll come back for more.
The daughter of a customer I particularly like comes in. She's on her way to visit her father in the hospital, which explains why there is still a big pile of books I've ordered for Mrs. Hill on the special-order shelf. Her daughter tells me Mrs. Hill has been going directly between her job and the hospital. After her daughter leaves, I call Mrs. Hill. Can I send the books off for her, does she just want to wait on the whole thing, what would she like me to do? It doesn't look good, she says about her husband, and I remember the time she told me the story of their courtship. I remind her she can order Chinese food and get it delivered to the hospital on Christmas Day, and I'm happy to hear a little laugh. Tomorrow I'll wrap and label the books, and drop them off at her house.
I get home in time to sit by the wood stove and read. It is an ironic fact of a book seller's existence that the reading of books is sometimes eclipsed by the selling of books. But I insist. This time of year calls for an absorbing page-turner, no time to pause because if I do I'll start thinking of Mrs. Booth's book for her granddaughter or Annie's book for her boyfriend and is Vinnie going to bring them on the UPS truck tomorrow and is the publisher going to be able to reprint The Darwin Awards before Christmas and will anyone buy The Beatles Anthology? Dennis Lehane, take me away …
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