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Why I love being a bookseller, Reason #279 May 29, 2009

Posted by Sandy in Uncategorized.

Not long ago, I had a very special exchange with a customer that I’d like to share, because it is an example of one of the very best parts of my job.

I took a phone call from a woman who began a long story about how she needed a last minute gift for a birthday party that night, and she’d be passing through town later, and maybe I could set something aside for her. The woman was looking for a book for a friend diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a simple story that they could share together. She mentioned Runaway Bunny, and Goodnight Moon, but wasn’t sure if those would be a little too simple, and went on to say, “Or maybe you have some ideas…?”

This was the question I’d been waiting for. Making book recommendations is a big part of a bookseller’s job, and requires an understanding of what people want versus what they say as well as a combination of knowledge,  intuition, and maybe a bit of magic, in matching an unknown person with the perfect book.

As I slowly scanned the shelves around me, listening to the woman talk about her friend, I saw Toot & Puddle and wondered if that might be a good choice–stories about friendship and individuality, about the joys of travelling the world and of coming home again. I was on the verge of mentioning one of Holly Hobbie’s books, when I glanced to the right and saw Zen Ties. And I knew that was the book. I took it from the shelf and began to tell the woman on the phone about this beautiful story, written and illustrated by John Muth.

Muth’s book offers simple, accessible versions of tales from the Zen tradition. The character of Stillwater, the panda, represents a Zen teacher who offers gentle lessons in patience, acceptance, and compassion. In Zen Ties, Stillwater’s young friends are upset by a cranky older woman who lives on their street. Stillwater asks if the children could help him by going to the woman’s house to take care of her, because she is ill. Neither the children nor the woman like this idea at the beginning, but they soon learn that each has something special to offer the other, and understanding and friendship begin to blossom.

As I told the woman on the phone about the story, she became very excited, saying that her friend is a Zen practitioner, and it was in that context they had met. She was thrilled that we’d been able to find what sounded like the perfect gift.

I never found out how the present was received, but I felt happy just knowing that I made this customer happy by taking the time to listen and match her needs with a special book. I like to imagine these two friends–though I don’t know either one–sitting and reading the book together often, finding comfort and joy in the story and in their time with each other.  And I think, “This is why I love what I do. This is why I love books.”


1. Katie - June 1, 2009

What a lovely story! Alice Hoffman said, “Books may well be the only true magic.”


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