Tuesday, May 16, 2006

"The King's English" by Betsy Burton

This book is a love song to bookselling. Betsy Burton opened a book shop in Salt Lake City Utah in the late '70's called " The King's English" and this book is her hymn of praise. It is written episodically and interspersed throughout are lists of books she has loved, hated, handsold, used, been inspired by. Also, lists she has received from other Independent Bookstores throughout the states. In the age of large bookchains, all-consuming and overwrought discounted department stores, The King's English unravels the war the Indies had with the new superstores at the beginning of the 90's.
Perhaps the most inspiring part of this book was finding someone who related first hand to the joy of pairing someone with his/her perfect book. I boast in my own job that I can tell what a person's perfect book match is by merely extracting a trait or two of their personality. Asking questions with carnivalesque flair and hoping that what I put in their hands is not only a snippet of myself, but of something greater: a force that might change their life! This highly sentimentalized view of the power of book exchange was exactly what I need as I think about leaving my own special bookstore.... how it has been the greatest experience of my life.

Burton relays the hyper activity of a Harry Potter sleepover, the financial troubles that caused her colleagues and herself to painstakingly choose which books must be sent back to the publisher to save the fiscal year, how she helped ( or not ) John Mortimer take luggage out of his car at the airport, and how she and Isabel Allende cooked dinner together. In fact, I think it is the author anecdotes that made the book for me. Her charming encounter with Tony Hillerman ( who I am beginning to believe must be the nicest duck in the business.... this is not the first time I have heard him spoken of as such ), her laugh-out-loud signing with Sue Grafton and her look at the prim Elizabeth George ( who borders on bitchiness in my opinion ). Also, her reminiscence of Rohinton Mistry's cancelled engagement after he was treated badly at the Utah airport not long after September 11th. For a woman so invested in her job....and her favourite authors, this unforeseen circumstance nearly broke her heart.


Burton was and is driven by an innate passion stronger than any external business force. I want to explore this pseudo-mythical book paradise which looks like a house and has rooms full of different books.

A bookseller's calling is a high one.... and it means so much more than facts and figures.

1 comment:

Otahyoni said...

I worked in a tiny indie bookstore during college, and I miss it. Terribly. Despite all this desire to be an editor and work with young adult fiction, I'm also very aware that I'd be perfectly content spending my life as a clerk in a bookstore. It'd be paradise.

I'm extremely jealous of your job. Very very very. *turns green*