Monday, February 25, 2013

Get to Know a Bookseller l Claudette





Claudette: What is that anyway?
Colin: This? It’s called the Snowball?
CG: The what?
C: The Snowball.
CG: What does it do?
C: It records things.
CG: Is it recording right now?
C: No, I just thought it would make a good ice-breaker. In case.  
CG: Why is it shaped like a circle? Or sphere?  
C: To make it look like we're having fun?
CG: Let the fun begin...
C: So what did you want to talk about?
CG: This is your interview, man. 
C: What’s that supposed to mean? (Turns to customer) Oh, hello, can we help you?
Customer: Yea, I need to know whether or not you have that Kristi Skordahl book.
CG: Yes, right over here. Hold on, I gotta sell a book.
Customer: Have you read it? It’s a St. Paul scandal!
C: It is? 
Customer: Uh-huh. 
CG: Maybe that’s why it’s selling so well.
Customer: Uh-huh. 

(Sound of cash drawer opening/glass breaking)

C: How long have you been here?
CG: I’ve been here since August of 2010. Or 9. 9 or 10.
C: Depending on when you turned in your I-9 form...  
CG: I don’t remember, exactly. But it feels like a long time.
C: "It feels like a long time." And before coming to Common Good, you worked at Magers & Quinn, right?
CG: Well, I did work at Magers & Quinn, but I was done with that in 2008. Followed by a stint in the fashion world. That didn’t go so well.
C: A lot of booksellers go on to work in the fashion world?  
CG: No.
C: It's not considered, like, a leap pad?
CG: No.
C: Not recognized, anyway.
CG: Nope. I was just an oddball like that.
C: You oddballed your way into... ? 
CG: BlackBlue first and then "this company.” Let’s just call it “company.” Very large, chain company. You know, with chains all over the… country.
C: I think we can assume that we know what we’re talking about. It's Talbots, right? 
CG: Anyway, I drew too much attention to myself.
C: And everyone got jealous!
CG: Ha! Exactly.
C: Are you still interested in fashion? How often do you buy new clothes?
CG: I have to say, first of all, that I like clothes for their aesthetic value. It’s not just clothes. But for someone who likes things like that to the extent that I do, I really don’t buy clothes that often because I try to be an ethical buyer. And the clothes that are made well by people who have good working conditions, those clothes are way out of my budget. So either I buy thrift store clothes to give the clothes a second life or I will save up.
C: When did you become interested in aesthetics? Is that a stupid question? Is that like asking a person when they became interested in food? But you are so committed to objects and clothing and architecture.
CG: Well, I grew up with an artist dad.
C: You’re dad was an artist? I thought he was president?
CG: He ran for the presidency, but he was mostly an artist.
C: Not unlike Wyclef. 
CG: Exactly. My dad was the Wyclef of Burundi. He was also an art teacher, so he would grade drawings and paintings at home, and I would watch him do that. And he encouraged all of his kids to draw. For the longest time I thought that my family--because, where I grew up, not a lot of people were interested in art--I thought we were the only people in the world who could draw.
C: Did we switch tracks to North Dakota or are we still talking about Burundi? 
CG: No, Burundi. My dad was an eccentric dude, and I take a lot from him. Weirdo, lost…
C: In Burundi? 
CG: Lost in his own world. So that was the beginning. But I think college, probably. I had to choose between…
C: (To customer) Hello!
Customer: Sorry to interrupt.
CG: Not at all.
Customer: I think I have a book here waiting for me.
Keelin: I can help you. They're in the middle of something.
CG: So I had to choose between art and…
C: Schooling? Truth?
CG: Something that would not embarrass my family. You know, when your parents send you from Africa to a developed country, they don’t say, “Go be an artist!”


(phone rings)

CG: Hello, Common Good Books. Yes. Thank you.  
C: Nailed that one!
CG: I just did some book selling.
C: Renaissance woman! So why did you choose art then? You said you needed a respectable job?  
CG: Can you understand my accent?  
C: I hope so.
CG: I didn't. I chose architecture.
C: Oh, architecture. Did you want to be an architect?
CG: At the time, I didn’t know what architecture was. I just knew it involved some creativity and I knew that you would get a job that’s fancy. But at the time… I forgot what I’m talking about. 
C: Wait, I know this... architecture.
CG: At the time, the economy was still okay, so people who were in architecture had jobs. And then things changed right about when I was looking for a job. Evidently, it’s the worst hit industry, in terms of unemployment. I just saw a graph the other day comparing where most people are to architects. It’s a huge difference.
C: Was there a correlation in your mind between it and the graph comparing most people to booksellers? As architecture goes down, for instance, is there an influx of independent booksellers?
CG: Probably. And then because of architecture and not having a job in architecture I became interested in other things that were art or design oriented. 
C: And now you're buying art books.
CG: Yes, photography’s my favorite. I wish I was a photographer. I like a lot of contemporary art, but not contemporary as in "NOW now.” More like modern art, you know, which means mid-century and up. Art is so complex and weird, with new stuff you always need a little bit of perspective to understand and appreciate it. And I don’t have the chops for that. I like when people tell me what to like. Ha! So I have to read books and be like, “Oh, so this good!”
C: But this afternoon you’re going to see "new" work at The Walker.
CG: Oh, I'm going to a panel related to an exhibit called Painter Painter about painting in the now.
C: And not to protest or anything like that. 
CG: No, I’m not against it, but I always wonder what makes a painter a good painter. Especially since painting has been around for so long, every painter’s work feels derivative in some ways. So I’m going to the discussion to see if I can learn something about painting. Because I do have favorite contemporary painters, but I don’t know why I like them.  
C: Hey, Molly!
Molly: Hi!
K: Happy Birthday!
Molly: It’s not my birthday.
C: Isn’t it your birthday?
M: Not today.
C: Facebook said it was your birthday. 
M: Tuesday. (Turns to Keelin) I thought you were at the Loppet.
K: Tonight.
C: So we're all on the same page then. 
M: Good thing we got some snow.
K: I know, it’s so fluffy and beautiful.
CG: So anyway.
C: Right. 
CG: You were asking who are my favorite painters.
C: Right.  
CG: The one guy, he’s a younger guy, his name is Matt Connors; he’s from New York. I really like this French guy. 
C: This is about painters still?
CG: Daniel Buren. Or, Daniel (French accent) Buren! I don’t know how you say it. He’s a painter and he’s French, so I’m assuming you don’t say it in English.
C: That's true. You don’t pronounce last names in French. You just say “Daniel” and start coughing.
CG: I like another French artist; a woman. I’m going to say it in English, and then I’ll try it in French.
C: I love this game.
CG: Agnes Martin.
C: Wait, wait, let me do it in French: Agnes... (Fake sneezes)
CG: Brilliant!
C: Okay, so you say the name correctly, then I'll say the first name and apologize.
CG: “Excuse my French?"
C: “Pardon moi.”
CG: Hey, now that’s a fourth thing you know in French!
C: That is a fourth thing! So, I can say "Excuse me," "Where’s the toilet?" and "Faster with the croissant, please." 
CG: And coffee!
C: Et cafe! I’ll be fine. If I can’t make it there, well, then I definitely can’t make it in New York. 
CG: You can’t make it in New York?
C: I'd have a better shot in Paris. 
CG: Really?
C: Knowing that much?
CG: Oh, that’s true. Those words would not serve you in New York at all.
C: No. No one cares if I want coffee in New York. 
CG: You want a bagel in New York, anyway.
C: Exactly. (To pretend New York waiter) “I’ll wait till Paris, thanks! I can hold it.” How do you ask for a bagel in French?
CG: I have no idea. "Bagelle?"
C: “Bagelle!” Followed by something rude and uncalled for.
CG: I don’t know what "bagel" is in French. 
C: I’m not sure the French know what a bagel is in French.
CG: Aren’t bagels Jewish?
C: (Throws hands up in the air) They’re delicious!
CG: So I’m assuming they’re European. There has to be a French word for "bagel." Should we Google Translate it?
M: Colin, is it too late to give you a book review for the newsletter?
C: Which book?
M: How to Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran.
C: Oh, sure.
M: Do you need a blurb?
C: Yea.
M: Ugh, fine. I thought I could just tell you a book I liked.
C: No, you can’t just tell me names of books. I mean, I can make something up. I can write down your name...
M: No, no... I’ll write one for the shelf-talker, anyway. 
C: Ha! They don’t know how to translate "bagel!" Look at this!
Google Voice: "Bagel." 
CG: I don’t think that’s French!
M: What are you guys doing?
C: We’re getting to know Claudette
M:Oh-ho-ho-ho-ho...
CG: Is it still going?
C: It's always going. 
M: Have you gotten to when she moved to Fargo yet?
CG: That part we skipped
C: We skipped a lot of the past. At a certain point we decided to get as far out of North Dakota as possible. 
M: She still has friends there. And family. 
CG: I do! I have a sister and a brother.
C: Look, Molly, I still have friends and family in the exurbs of Chicago, but I'm not basing an interview off of it.
CG: The last time I was in Fargo I said, “That’s it. This is the last time.”
M: (Picks up croissant) Whose crossaint is this? Was this your bribe so that Claudette would do the interview? 
CG: No, I don’t know who left that for me. Whose is this?
C: That’s my bribe so you would do the interview. In case.
CG: A day old croissant? Sorry, but Keelin brought in this fantastic banana bread with chocolate. The funny thing is she brought it for you.
C: For me?
CG: Yea, cause you were supposed to open, but then I showed up and ate it.

(Loud laughter)

M: Keelin's on the phone, guys.
C: Both of us keep giving things to people who don’t want them.
K: You guys are being so annoying, when I’m sitting here helping a customer.
CG: I thought you were done.
C: That really bothers me when that happens. I’m sorry.
CG: Me too.
K: OK. Don’t do it again.
CG: Sorry, Keelin. If it’s any consolation I was talking about your bread.
K: It’s not much.
C: Is there any left?
CG: Two slices. I think it was extra delicious because I knew they were yours. So anyway I got a car in Fargo and it’s so sad there for me. I mean, I love Fargo, but I can’t relate to it anymore.
C: Since having moved to Minnesota?
CG: Ha, right.
C: When the film Fargo came out...
CG: Oh, God, not that question.
C: No, I’m not going to ask you about Fargo. But it must have been released around the time you got here. Were you just confused as hell?
CG: Well, at the time I was not interested in film. I was more interested in learning to speak English than cinema.
C: Like, in that order?


(Enter Katie Eggers, founder and editor of thirty two Magazine)


KE: Hi! We brought some new copies for you.
CG: Thanks so much. We can’t keep them in stock. Last time you brought them I sold three in the first hour.
KE: That’s so cool. 
CG: And you’ll email me the invoice?
KE: Yes.
CG: I printed out the last one and I sent it to the people who do bills.
KE: Do you want me to invoice your for the 20 that were sold? Or the 40… probably for the 20.
CG: Yes, please. Thank you so much. Have a good weekend.
C: Look at you, doing your job, twice.
CG: This is one of our bestselling magazines. I think it’s a beautiful layout, simple, not overwhelming. And they talk about good food, good people. This is Blu Dot. You know Blu Dot? They’re a modern furniture design firm based in Minneapolis.  
C: Is the issue about modern architecture?
CG: No, I don’t know why they have that on the cover. They’re not talking about Blu Dot. Do you know magazines do that? For example, if you go to a salon and look at hair magazines, there’s usually a picture of Christina Aguilera or whatever taken from some inventory of stock photos. I’m sure the people on the cover are paid, but they didn’t have to do anything. 
C: You mean they just did their hair once and took a picture of it?
CG: I mean, like, no one took the picture.
C: Like it’s not even their hair?
CG: It’s just them on the cover. Christina Aguilera doesn’t care about your hair. 
C:  Well, that’s the last time I fall for that.  
M: Colin, is it okay if my blurb is actually from my sister-in-law? 
C: Yea, why? Cause she’s the one who read it?
M: We were talking about it on Facebook and I think what she said is perfect. 
C: Facebook is misleading. 
M: Here. (Hands shelf-talker to Colin)  
C: Okay, so you not only curate our selection of photography and art books, which you’re pretty well known for...
CG: Yea, I’m really well known. Ha! 
C: Besides me asking you to order expensive literary magazines that don't sell and we return, how do go about choosing what to carry?
CG: Well, I really love that part of my job, because unfortunately we don’t have magazine stands anymore. The only place you can get decent magazines is Barnes&Noble. But that’s barnes&Noble. So I like magazines a lot and bring in things I like to read or bring in things for other customers. And they're usually art related or related to culture, art, fashion, food...
C: Do you like food?

(Throws back head and laughs like Bond villain) 

M: Can I sell someone a book, please?
C: (Laughs normally) Boy, the second the attention's off of Molly it’s all business.
CG: It’s my little contribution to the twin cities. But I don’t advertise them that well. Maybe that’s what this interview is all about. Telling people we have magazines.
C: I was wondering what this interview is about. 
M: (To customer) Would you like it wrapped?
C: Are you really moving to New York?
CG: You’re telling everyone my secrets.
C: This won't make it in.
CG: No, the twin cities are fine.
Customer: That’s a glowing endorsement. 
C: But your sights are on New York from what I understand.
CG: Yea, or Berlin.
C: Sure. A lot of people when they can’t think of an answer say Berlin. What would you do in Berlin?
CG: Learn German.
C: But your degree is still in architecture?
CG: My major’s architecture, yea. I’m gonna finish the degree, and then I’m gonna move on.
C: To German.
CG: To Germany, yes.
C: And look at magazines. 
CG: Germany has fantastic magazines. Frieze magazine is originally from Germany. Berlin is actually known in the international art world as--well, maybe it’s changed--but some people have compared it to the New York of the ‘80s. You know, raw, dirty...
C: Unsafe….
CG: Unsafe, but in a good way. Or a fun way. 
C: So, thematically unsafe.
CG: I mean, you still have cultural remnants of the Cold War era, and East Germany still… Well, it’s not West Germany. 
C: You’ve been there?
CG: Not once. Ha! It’s like Joe talking about New York: “It’s not what it used to be!”
C: Joe talks about lot of things in terms of what they used to be. I’ve learned a great deal through his inexperience.
CG: I know, it’s great! I’m like, "Tell me more about the history of jazz."
C: Joe could boil down Ulysses, having not read it.
CG: I know.
C: Okay.
CG: We’re done?
C: That's it. Any last words?
CG: Um, be good to each other, everyone.
C: Molly...
CG: And be good to the earth.
C: So that's what this is all about: Earth needs us.
CG: And also, art is good.
C: Earth needs us, plus art. But if you had to choose, hypothetically...
CG: It’s connected. Big time. (Looks out window) Oh, I know that guy from a picture at The Walker.  

(Colin scribbles words in notebook)

CG: That just happened! You're transcribing that!?  
C: Yea, well, it relates back to the painter thing. It's like you said, "it's all connected."
CG: Just like the environment and art. 



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