Saturday, October 20, 2012

Pie books are all about the same thing

There's a hair of truth in everything, including pie. You know what, let me try that again, without using the words hair and pie in the same sentence. Ahem... Pie books probably are the same, though... Okay, look, I have no idea what I'm talking about. My aim is simply to communicate that Sunday at Opus & Olives, while Cheryl Strayed was speaking and us Common Gooders were enjoying beets and dick jokes in the pool area, the closed captioning up on the screen mistook Strayed's saying "My books are all about the same thing," for "Pie books are all about the same thing." I was the only one who caught it and/or thought it was hilarious. Though, in fairness, it's a bit like saying there's no such thing as an original piece of music since all of it's made up of the same six or seven notes, which I'll wager is a bit unfair to pie books and the people who write them. Or bake them. Anyway, point is, no two pie books are the same. Probably.

But enough about pie. What about olives? It took a while to decipher the acronyms MIBA (Midwest Independent Booksellers Association) and GLIBA ("Great Legs!" Independent Booksellers Association... I can't. I can't not do it), in part because there's much debate, from what I gather, about whether you pronounce the long e or short i. MiBA sounds like something that a frog might say by accident, while MeeeBA sounds definitively like Sweetums from The Muppets. So take your pick I guess.

And just when you thought it couldn't get any more confusing, or banal, I was just informed by our friend Jason from Random House that MEBA used to be called UMBA (Upper Midwest Booksellers Association), which, had it combined with GLIBA, could have been called GLUMBA and been destined to become the first ever alliterative convention in the Midwest for sad monsters. Alas.

So what does Opus & Olives stand for? Libraries, for one thing. But as I would learn that night, it's about something more that for a bookseller has to do with abandoning your instincts.

Needless to say, this was my first time either selling books at Opus & Olives. (Between you and me, I'll be glad when all of this gratuitous reliving of "first times" is over. I'm just glad I've yet to document a list of first times growing up: "Needless to say, this was the first time I'd seen a woman naked." "Needless to say, I'd never been shoved in a locker." "Needless to say, my father and I hadn't spent that much time playing catch.") But there I was, having apparently lost some sort of a bet, downstairs, alone, in the lobby of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, not so much selling books by the five authors in attendance as periodically shouting out the cost of each one put together like a broker on some ridiculously antiquated stock-exchange, while my cohorts ate and boozed it up, for all I know, upstairs.

I got the feeling early on, after my square card reader broke and I stood facing the best-dressed, least discerning flock of book buyers I'd ever seen that selling at a fundraiser was different than at home. Whether I loved a book or hated it could not have mattered less, for instance; rather, it was like bonus points if I'd even heard of it and knew where to get more. I had to stop myself from asking people if they knew that Richard Russo's book cost more than $40, or reminding them that Gone Girl would one day come out in paper. And every time I got the urge to recommend a book they'd like based on the one or six they'd bought I immediately pictured that person naked and handed to them Wild.

Richard and Kate Russo, somewhere else.
Eventually, my square got fixed, my glass was filled, and I ran out of excuses for taking so long to add. No longer forced, however, to contend with an envelope of dollar bills and pile of I Owe You's, it dawned on me that bookselling in public at a fancy, big name event is less glamorous than it might seem, more like registering voters or renewing vehicle tags on the last day without penalty.

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