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Musings of a bookseller: A personal essay

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orking at my local bookstore was not all that it was cracked up to be. I believed that surrounding myself with the scent of pages and the people who loved them would have been enough. To get the first peek at new books that had not yet hit the shelves, shiny and teasing in their allure, would have been enough.

That was a naive fantasy. 

I did not know that I would get the most scowls in 30 minutes after opening than I had in my entire life – simply because I had greeted customers with an overly zealous, “hello.” 

I did not know that I would be shouted at for handing a customer back pennies they could not be bothered to carry around. 

I did not know that the most bitter and unfulfilled people would convene near the extensive paperback section on a Monday morning and take it out on the bookseller, a girl who had already been there since 7 a.m. 

I was not aware that a pretentious customer would proudly laugh at their lack of knowledge on how the register worked because they “went to college,” assuming that, because of where we stood on either side of the counter, I could not have possibly been a holder of a degree. 

I did not expect that most people would do me the unsolicited favor of telling me how hot I must be walking around in “all that,” as if my Hijab made my simple outfit of a crewneck and jeans 100 degrees warmer. 

What I could not have known was that, amidst the cranky, gray and miserable, there would be some light. 

I could not have known that it would only take one girl running up to the bookseller at the counter, books in hand with the brightest smile on her face and her “you’re so pretty by the way”, paying her a compliment that would erase all of the bad. 

I could not have thought that as a bookseller I would witness the quietest yet grandest confessions of love when a young couple walked up to the register, the man carrying the woman’s mile-high stack of hardcover books, the woman rambling on about how excited she was and the man paying, without either of them even batting an eye. 

I could not have been able to anticipate that the beauty and sacredness of female friendship that had been revealed to me when a pair of elderly women came in on a random Wednesday afternoon, with one woman insisting on paying for both of their books while the other refused and snuck around her to pay anyway, would bring the largest smile to my face. 

I could not have known that the tiny humans who waddled up to the counter with books pressed to their little chests like armor, asking me if they could purchase random items like magnets or pens that they could not even hold, as if I held all the power, would make me feel so warm inside because I had never before witnessed such complete faith in a stranger. 

I was wrong to think that being a bookseller would simply blanket me with the positivity and goodness of bibliophiles, that it would enliven me with that simple magic that comes from being surrounded by others who love pages, and fake worlds, and the words that create them, a kind of magic that I had expected all readers to share. 

Being a bookseller was more about noticing all of the quiet, and hushed fleeting moments, ones that lasted seconds but were cherished forever, the tiny pockets of beauty and joy hidden within the pages that is the love for books. 

Contact Zainab Adam at