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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Pistil Prose Redux

When Pistil was a retail store (Pistil Books & News 1993-2001), we had store journals for staff to record their thoughts, misadventures, sketches and of course "Retail Hell" stories in (Some of these stories were compiled in the store zine, Pistil Prose). These journals were old-fashioned college ruled composition books and besides writing, they grew fat with scrap-booked photos, postcards, fliers, and found items and dated from Volume 1 Sept. 1994 to Volume 6, April 2001, when our Pike Street retail store closed.

Now that we've been an online-only bookstore for the same number of years we were a retail bookstore, I'm finally starting a blog. This has been slow to happen because the obvious question is what will we (will my three other Pistil people join me?) write about? We're no longer open to the general public and have no retail hell stories to tell. An occasional yelling email (written in all caps) from a perturbed (or disturbed?) customer, "WHERE'S MY BOOK?" is about the extent of our customer service woes. Looking through the old store journals, I see they are more about people than about books. This blog can be more about books than people.

Reading is something that I do every day, often reading more than one book in the same time period (usually something fiction and something non-fiction) though not actually two books at the same time, one in each hand. My reading is somewhat indiscriminate in that for the most part I choose to read books that come my way through Pistil, that is a bit randomly, rather than specifically choosing to read certain authors based on reviews, recommendations, etc. With around twelve thousand books at my disposal, I rarely use the library or shop at other bookstores. Usually I am physically handling a book during a book purchase for the store and it catches my eye, or I browse our stock on the shelves, which lends itself to strange juxtapositions because our books are arranged by title, not by category and author as in a traditional bookshop. Looking at the shelf behind me, for instance, I see Dear Playboy Advisor (what are we doing with that in our stock?); Death and the Devil; Death Feast in Dimlahamid; Death in America; The Death of Adam; Death of a Guru; Death of Rapunzel; Debate in Tibetan Buddhism... you get the idea: erotica, a thriller,a book on British Columbian Native Americans, book of poetry, book on evolution, Yogi autobiography, another thriller, and eastern religion all rubbing spines. In this case, a disproportionate number of thrillers are showing up since the word "Death" starts the title. When choosing fiction to read from our shelves, I pull a promising-looking title -- cover done in literary rather than genre style -- yes, I do judge books by the cover, then read the first paragraph or so. Sometimes I read the blurb on the back and these can turn me off instantly. I know I don't want to read "a novel of romantic suspense which grips our attention and touches our hearts."

My preferred genre of fiction is realistic. I like getting a slice of real life, being able to step into another's shoes, or feel like I'm observing them up close. This morning I walked through Seattle's International District and saw five multi-colored flowing dragons dance in the street to drumming in the rain, scattering firecrackers and bits of lettuce in their wake, for the Chinese New Year celebration. People crowded around to watch, individuals with histories and voices and stories and relationships and a stream-of-consciousness going through their heads just like mine, but we were all separate and unknown to each other except in this tiny intersection of shared experience. In opening a book, I have access to another person's mind. I carry my current book around in my bag and know I can listen to the author's voice, step into another world, whenever I want. Though I do have favorite authors (Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant, Anita Brookner, Paul Bowles, Alan Watts, to name a few), I read so much and in such a haphazard manner that I strangely tend to forget authors and titles, even though this kind of memory has developed in me for the business side of bookselling.

Perhaps by writing about what I'm reading here, I will become more deliberate in my reading choices and maybe read with more depth. At least I'll keep a record of what I've read.

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