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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I Said I Wanted to Work With Books

I've been working the textbook buyback rush at the University of Arizona Bookstore for a week and half now. Unknown lucky sods get to do the buying and inspection. At that point, they ship the heavy, dusty books to a group of us, on dollies, or in wheeled tubs. We put those lovely stickers that say "used" on them and then try with all our might to put them in the right place. That means finding out whether it's been ordered for the spring semester or not, and tens of thousands of other variables I would never have imagined only two weeks ago.

The burden is mostly physical: standing all day, walking miles across hard floors, lifting, bending, crouching, etc. We also have a heavy burden on our memories, as we need to recall exactly where things belong or cost ourselves a lot of extra physical effort.  I'm impressed with how much I remember. I'm mostly in the rhythm of things now, so I don't feel as desperate or soulless as when I started.

The first day was really hard because all these wonderful books were coming under my nose, and yet I couldn't stick my nose into them! The pace is much too fast for a contemplative perusal of each interesting bit of course material that comes my way. When I was a cataloger at the library in Boston, at least it was understood that you could set some books aside for yourself before finishing up the records and sending them out for the public. We were all bibliophiles there, and it was an unspoken benefit of the job. In this situation, books are whisked out from between one's fingers -- to occupy their spaces on the textbook shelves so the avid students can find them, or to languish among other things that have been purchased "on spec," or in the overstock piles -- long before one can do more than get a sense that one would like to continue reading. The longing was so great that first day, I thought I might have to quit on the grounds of psychological torture.

Then there are the myriad assaults on the sensibilities of those who love the book-as-object: torn and folded covers (book drop accidents); mutilated, replaced, detached spines; excessive note-taking in margins; dog-eared-ness; signs of being dropped in the bathtub; and other scenes too gruesome for this blog. Perhaps even more depressing, we frequently see books still in the plastic shrink-wrap, sent to us as if they've been thoroughly used. In these cases, perhaps the students meant to return the books new because they weren't taking the class, after all, but didn't get around to it in time, thus costing Mom and Dad hundreds of dollars. I usually assume they were coasting, and never opened the book, all the while hoping to get an "A" anyway. I always send loving thoughts to those books, sending them on to, I hope, be truly loved the next time around.

One day, I will be able to actually start reading a book, never mind finishing one! In the meantime, please look the other way if I've developed a habit of leafing through the pages as I scurry across the warehouse. A single sentence is better than silence.