At face value, books may seem like merely inanimate objects, but they are far more than that.
I’ve always been a reader, but sometimes it has been more of a priority than others due to the course of life. I often tell people I didn’t read for three years whilst I was at university, but of course, what I meant by that, is that I didn’t read anything of my choosing.
Having studied an academically rigorous degree, it took me a while to get back into the flow of reading for pleasure — and specifically — fiction. But a job as a bookseller after graduating would soon sort me out.
As a child, teenager and adult, the best way to spend a Saturday was always by browsing a good bookshop and getting lost in the infinite sea of titles, worlds and knowledge.
I constantly imagined what it would be like to work in a bookshop, surrounded by what I loved most in the world. Of course, what we imagine it to be like is sometimes different from reality, but in my case, it comes pretty close.
How It All Started
I was over the moon when I was invited for an interview after applying for a bookseller role at one of my favourite stores. I stumbled my way through my favourite books and authors out of the sheer hope of conveying to the manager just how much I loved reading and how I wanted to share that in my role. And remarkably — they hired me.
I loved so many parts about being a bookseller — but the one I’m most grateful for — is being able to re-establish my love of reading throughout the process.
Being a bookseller just as the pandemic started
Let’s flashback to March 2020, when the pandemic was hitting the world. None of us knew what to expect or how long the impending lockdown would last, but I remember my last shifts at the bookshop very clearly.
I was amazed as people brought vast piles of books to the till and told me they were stockpiling for the empty days ahead. At that moment, I realised the real value of books and what they can bring to peoples’ lives during uncertainty.
Bookshops were classed as “non-essential” retail during most of the pandemic here in the UK. Still, from my interactions with regular customers, most people didn’t feel that way. Of course, safety always should come first, but bookshops, in my eyes, should always be classed as essential.
What Working as a Bookseller Taught Me
Being a bookseller and having the luxury of being surrounded by books daily, peppered with the occasional obscure request from a customer and subsequently, learning about titles and authors I’d never heard of before, opened my eyes to the sheer range of books out there. And the lack of time I had to read them.
A person cannot possibly read all the books published in their lifetime — so we have to be selective. Ever since graduating and becoming a bookseller, I’ve told myself that I will always prioritise books when I can.
#1 Fiction has been my rock
Fiction can be a form of escapism, but I regard it as one of the best forms of education. Through reading it, we are exposed to societies, cultures and communities across the world that we may not encounter in real life. We are forced to put ourselves in the shoes of others and feel empathy.
This may technically be fictional and not told with the qualms of facts, dates and historical events. Still, it provides us with a form of social education we cannot encounter in real life. I have spent the past year reading and writing about all the books I have read, and as a result, I’ve fallen in love with reading more than ever.
#2 Anyone can be a bookseller in theory
Although the bookshops have been shut more than they have been open for the past year, I’ve been able to do my job from home in a different way.
From recommending books to strangers on the internet, writing recommendation lists and posting on Instagram in the book community, and starting my online book publication, I’ve tried to keep my love and value of reading alive and passing it onto others.
Books have always played a pivotal role in my life and wellbeing, but it was able to spread this to others with my job — that I began to realise the full extent of their value.
Never Taking Books for Granted
For every conversation I had with a stranger about a book and for every smile shared, I am reminded of the power of books. I am reminded about how they can comfort us in dark times, and how they can unite us despite our differences.
At face value, they make seem like merely inanimate objects, but they are far more than that. They are the bricks and mortar that bind us together through thick and thin, and because of this, they always deserve a place in our society.
When the pandemic is finally laid to rest, maybe we’ll collectively have a renewed appreciation for them and the unique experience that browsing a bookshop is.
Bookshops are one of my favourite places — and this has always been the case — even when I didn’t work in one. But becoming a bookseller and witnessing just how much books can make people happy, make their day and strike a conversation between strangers makes me realise their true power, and for that reason, I will never take them for granted.
Every book is unique, and so is each person who decides to pick up and read it. For every book, there is a lifetime of writing practice behind it. It is a privilege to read and to be read, and we are so lucky that we live in a world where books are in abundance and more accessible than ever.
Being at the forefront of this beautiful transaction that takes place between writer and reader; has forged my appreciation of books more than ever. During this dark and uncertain year, the power of books has never been so desirable — we should continue to prioritize them at every cost.