Return of the Book Week (the Length of Which is Ten Days, Actually)

Last year, some of you may vaguely remember (in the farthest recesses of your mind that contain those details that are actually pretty useless and unneeded), I worked at Hebrew Book Week. I’m doing the same thing this year, and today I spent some seven hours setting up stalls, heaving books out of boxes, removing the books from their plastic wrappings and setting them out. My back aches, my wrists hurt and my legs are exhausted, but I got to handle books all day, and in my opinion that’s the best kind of manual labor for me.

Until June 25, I might not have as much time to read all of your lovely blogs as often, although I’ll do my best. I do have most mornings off, but since I’m working on different versions of my resume and gearing myself up to start writing cover letters, I might not have those mornings as leisurely times. I’m applying to internships, you see, at publishing houses and literary agencies in New York City, for next year, and it’s all very exciting and nerve-wracking.

Finally, my current work in progress is coming on well. I think I may have written what is going to be its closing paragraph today, which felt incredible. Since this is the first book I’ve written that has been new to me with every sentence I write, I’m excited to see that maybe it’s actually going to wrap itself up and not leave me hanging and confused as to what on earth I’m supposed to do with the collection of moments in it.

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.