In Conclusion

Book week has ended. Officially. Completely. Done.

The fair was held every day, except Fridays, between June 2 and June 12. Every evening, the booths opened at six o’clock sharp, which meant that they actually opened around a quarter to, because if someone managed to get into the square where the fair was held and wanted to buy a book… well, far be it from us to refuse to take his money. In essence, working at the fair was about making money. It’s a huge opportunity for publishers to sell their books in one place, rather than distribute them to bookstores, and to invite writers in to sign their books. So every evening, starting around six and ending between eleven and midnight, I think I repeated the following lines dozens and dozens of times:

“You have a frequent-flier card? Great! So this is how it works – you choose one book that costs up to 88 NIS, and you get that book free – wait, wait, then you’re eligible for three more books, each for only 35 NIS!”

“Let me see that coupon – oh, yes, fabulous, so look, you can get this book for 40 NIS, and you can get three more for only 35 NIS each! Forget the other coupons, this is cheaper, I swear.”

“Our deals? Well, everything is 20% off, of course, plus if you buy two books, you get the third for free!”

I was a good little worker-bee, and I repeated my mantras again and again. I repeated them to the same people more than once, because I’d forgotten that they’d spoken to me five minutes before. I repeated them, unintentionally, in my head before I went to bed. I repeated them with irony to my friends, to show them how good I was at reeling off the lines.

But that wasn’t what it was about for me – not really. Sure, the paycheck I’ll be getting is a pretty nice thing, and sure, of course I enjoyed being praised as a good worker. But I also enjoyed the fact that I was selling books. By the end of last night, I could tell with a glance what books to offer to whom, and who was there to buy as opposed to complain about the deals. I could recognize the people I was going to have a long chat with, and the people who would be rude to me. I learned how to convince people that despite what it said on the back of the book, Orlando is NOT a transvestite, but simply changes gender halfway through the book. I managed to convey that even though I haven’t read Hemingway yet, I knew which books were good to start with. I established a rapport with some customers and remembered them when they came back a day or two later.

And then, last night, it all ended… The lights above our booths were cut off at midnight, but we kept selling books until almost one o’clock, while simultaneously starting to pack up. After the last of the customers left, all us drones worked together and taped up cardboard boxes, packed books into them, salvaged more boxes when we ran out, talked and laughed and sweat in the hot night air. There were seeds from a nearby cluster of trees that had somehow opened up in the night to form these white puffballs that got into our clothes and mouths and eyes and stuck to our bare skin. It was hard work, and it took more than an hour.

But then that ended, too. The action wound down, although everyone was still pretty full of adrenaline. Big trucks with big men on them came and took away the boxes we’d packed, one by one, and dismantled our booths, one by one, and then it was time for us to leave, one by one.

I’ve never had a better job. Three of my superiors told me it was a pleasure to work with me. I was on good terms with every single one of my fellow workers. I made at least one friend, and another two potential friends with whom I’d really like to keep in touch. I was surrounded by books, touching books, selling books and looking at books for over sixty hours – and I was paid to do it.

I was so scared going into this job – dealing with people, giving the hard sell, lots of lifting and carrying, and the worst… needing to get along with workers without being painfully shy. I succeeded and did well and on top of it all enjoyed every moment of it.

In conclusion, as my title says, it was good, and I’m both sad and relieved it’s over. I now have an exam to study for and friends to catch up with as well as friends to keep in touch with. I also have, finally, time to write again. Hopefully, that’ll mean less rambling, personal, crazy and misty-eyed posts like this, and more stories, characters and writing exercises. But because this is my blog, and has been so for over a year and a half, I’ll still lapse into sessions of confession and personal babble once in a while. And that’s okay.

Those

There are those who browse, touching the books as they go.

There are those who straighten the books as they pass over them, as if, like me, it bothers them to see a messy booth.

There are those who look down resolutely, in denial that there’s someone on the other side.

There are those who look up if you greet them with cheer and a smile.

There are those who ignore even that.

There are those who watch other people, who pick up a book someone has just bought, or snatch it up if they didn’t want it.

There are those who listen in to my conversations with customers and try to glean information from them so that they won’t need to talk to me themselves.

There are those who think they’re witty and who continue to badger on with their friends and block the booth with sheer volume and an annoying aura.

There are those who are excited to buy books.

There are those who buy books only because they’re on sale or even for free with their frequent-flier cards.

There are those who tell the stranger next to them that the book he or she is holding is good.

There are those who tell the stranger next to them that the book he or she is holding is bad, even though they’ve only read the reviews.

There are those who are so passionate that they almost have tears in their eyes, and they do my job for me, convincing people to buy this or that book.

There are those who are mean, for no reason at all.

There are those who are nice, maybe because I’m cheerful, but maybe for no reason at all.

There are those who are old.

There are those who are young.

There are those with their lovers.

There are those with their children.

There are those who don’t care a whit about books.

There are those who love them as much as I do.

It’s 2AM

…and I’m exhausted. I worked my butt off from 6:3oPM to after midnight, and let me tell you – as much as I love books [and you all know I do], they’re HEAVY. Needing to arrange huge shrink-wrapped packs of ten copies of The Master and Margarita is no picnic, let me tell you.

Still, it’s worth it. I got moved to the classics table – I’d been at the contemporary fiction before – and I’m so much more acquainted with the older classics, mostly because they’re translated, while the contemporary fiction includes a lot of Hebrew books I haven’t read yet [although I’d like to.] So I got to spend the evening talking about Virginia Woolf and Melville and Hemingway, as well as the Israeli Yoram Kaniuk. I got to see people’s eyes light up when they saw that The Nick Adams Stories were finally translated into Hebrew, as well as Wolff’s Flush. I got to see the people who want more than airplane books, people who want to have the copy of a book they read years ago on their shelves and people who were just discovering the wonders of the classics.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t sneer at airplane books. I’ve read two Dan Browns, so I can’t claim to be a snob. If someone loves to read, then I don’t think there’s any reason to fuss about what he or she is reading, just so long as they’re spending that much time away in someone else’s world. But still, there was something about the people I sold books to tonight that made me feel like they were kindred spirits, excited that there was a world of books out there, old as well as new, that they could discover.

Apologies and The Tale of the Book Fair

First of all, I want to apologize to you all – I haven’t had time to read any of your wonderful posts yesterday and today, and I feel awful about it. I always do, you know. I feel such a respect and appreciation for all of you who post so faithfully and who make me laugh, think, weep, and smile in turns – and I hate not having the time both to comment and to read your posts for my own pleasure. I do, however, have a good reason for not having had time yesterday and today to catch up.

I’ve had a rush of doctor’s appointments, ultrasounds [stomach and throat – I’m not pregnant or anything!] and errands in the past two days. On top of all that, starting yesterday, June 2, I’ve been working at the Hebrew Book Fair, which has been one of my goals since I was tiny tot.

Now, I don’t want to be too discriminatory, nor too prejudiced, but Israelis are often not the easiest crowd to deal with. This is common knowledge amongst Israelis, too, and as I am one, I’m allowed to say it. But Hebrew Book Week is ten full days in which fairs go up all over the country – fairs dedicated to BOOKS [yeah, I know, why call it a week when it’s ten days? It’s one of the grand mysteries of the world.] If you don’t know already, books are my life in more than one sense. They’ve been calming, comforting presences, friends when I needed them, entertainers when I needed a laugh and teachers when I wanted to learn. I love books. I love their smell, their feel, the crack in the spine when you first start reading a book… I love books.

So finally, this year, I’m working at the biggest of the fairs – the one that goes up right in the center of Tel Aviv – and I’m working for one of the major publishers. I never thought that I’d actually manage to work there, and I’m so glad that I have! I was tiny when I started going to the annual book fair, and I remember the excitement of leaving with bags laden with books [there’s 20% off all books during this time, of course, plus numerous other deals] and reading one of the books right that night. I remember going to the children’s corner to hear storytellers or writers reading their books.

And now I’m there, looking at it all from the other side. It’s an interesting experience, seeing famous Israeli writers or not so famous ones; seeing the way different writers deal with their own books [some, for instance, promote them shamelessly and aggressively. I can’t imagine ever being able to do that with anything I’d create…] ; seeing the different buyers, whether they’re families or couples or friends; meeting the people who work with me who are just as into books as I am… It’s an education, and the time flies.

The fair is in the evenings and into the night. I just managed to get out tonight by fifteen after midnight, and I’m exhausted. This may explain the non-existent eloquence of the post, as well as the not-so-pervading neatness and flow. Forgive me, for I’ve been on my feet for seven hours, and I think my brain might have dripped down meanwhile. Tomorrow, and Saturday, I will have freer days and will finally get back on track with y’all.