Customer of the Week - Week 2

Monday, October 27, 2008

Damn, has it been a week already? Time has just flown by. I'm still getting back into the groove of working a regular schedule, but I've enjoyed being back at the bookstore. Now I'm trying to get ready for Halloween, which is apparently this Friday, which means I need to carve some pumpkins with a quickness. But, since it's Monday (and therefore the start of my "weekend" - ie, two days off in a row) that means its time for this week's Customer of the Week! Only one stood out this week, but he was fun. The winner of the COTW, Week Two, is ..... the Flamboyant Former Bookseller!

FFB came in to order some books by Italo Calvino, an author I haven't read but who definitely intrigues me. Somehow we got to talking about books that are life-changing. The ones that you remember years later, that somehow were the right words at the right time to encapsulate everything that you needed to hear and feel. It turns out that he had worked for years as a bookseller. I told him about how much I enjoy selling books to young teenagers - I love the excitement on their faces when they purchase Siddartha or Catcher in the Rye or The Fountainhead. I wonder how they found out about their book - were they randomly searching the internet and stumbled across it? Or did an older and wiser mentor subtlely suggest they pick up a copy?

FFB is the COTW not just because he was fun, insightful, and wearing a totally fabulous striped shirt with the color up, Fonzi-style. But because he got me thinking about my own life changing book. Like millions of teenagers before me, I can remember the first time I read On the Road. Unlike many other teenagers, I've read it since then. Multiple times. While I don't think its really Kerouac's best work (Desolation Angels is better written, Visions of Cody easier to read, and Dharma Bums a more interesting story), something about On the Road makes it accessible to a young reader in a way that his other works aren't.

On the Road is often criticized for being dated, but those critics are missing the point. When I first read On the Road as a young pre-teen, I didn't read it as a travel guide to hitch-hiking across the country. But I recognized myself in Sal Paradise. Because the story of Sal Paradise is the story of a young person with an unlimited capacity for dreams, who ultimately discovers that his dreams have outpaced him. His journey almost ends before it begins, when he finds himself standing along the side of an empty road, heading the wrong direction, soaked and miserable and wearing the wrong kind of shoes for the road. At the very end of the novel, he is forced to confront the fact that his best friend Dean, the friend who had propelled him on his epic journey across the country, is actually a self-centered jerk. But through it all Sal Paradise just keeps moving. And that was what was most appealing to me as a teenager, and which still resonates now at 30 - that you'll never run out of road.

Maybe all that Kerouac in my formative years explains why I'm still searching for a niche and a career after all this time, why I'm still convinced there can be greatness in my future. Who knows. But there are worse novels to serve as a guidepost. So thanks, FFB, for bringing up great memories. And reminding me of some of the things I enjoy most about my job. Now its time to go back and re-re-read my copy of the On the Road - the one that still has my name scrawled in pen on the cover, from so many years ago.

Posted by oballard at 8:35 PM  

What a great story. I love FFB!

I know it is a cliche nowadays, but I loved The Bell Jar as a teenager. I was so much fun.

I recently re-read The Good Earth. Wow. I got so much more out of it this time and it was so relevant to today's times.

October 27, 2008 at 10:41 PM  
Melissa said...

Hmmm...what would my book have been? I'd have to say "The Screwtape Letters". I've read it at three different points in my life and each time I got something totally different out of it.

October 27, 2008 at 11:24 PM  

Have you read any Joyce Johnson? I think you would like her. She wrote a book called minor charachters. She was friends with Keroac and wrote about life as a woman during that time. It's a great book - I have so many passages highlighted.

November 1, 2008 at 11:08 PM  

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