June 26, 2011

A Bookseller’s Mixed Tape

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jarek Steele @ 5:29 pm

Yeah, I said mixed tape.  Call me old fashioned.  Retro, even.  I don’t care.  Nothing says angst and melodramatic unrequited love than a mixed tape sent from you to the object of your affection.  It conjures whiffs of Aqua Net and pot smoke and the aftertaste of Peach Schnapps and onion rings, your ears still humming from the blown out speakers in the back of your friend’s Grand Am.  Or maybe that’s just me.  Maybe I’m the only one who closed the bathroom door and copied Bon Jovi ballads from one tape to the other, getting the perfect mix to finally, for the love of god, finally explain to Debbie that I was the one for her.  Yeah, I was probably the only one who did that for her, per say, but tell me you didn’t have your own Debbie.

Lately (and truthfully for quite a while) I’ve been feeling a little melodramatic about the whole bookselling gig.  Droopy sales, Amazon, e-books, the weekly wail from the news media about the decline of publishing – it does get tedious, truth be told – as does the occasional startling realization that the cool customer I loved to see hasn’t been in the store for months.  When that happens, I get all high school and privately obsess over what I did wrong, what other (cooler? younger?) bookstores did right, and what I can do to get said customer’s attention again.

I wallow.  It’s not healthy or attractive, I know but there you go.  My secret is out.

In my ever present computer bag, I keep a notebook full of, well, notes and lists.  My current favorite is my list of songs I’d put on a mixed tape.  There are obvious choices, of course.  “Baby Come Back” for instance, “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” is another easy one.  But to really do justice to the mixed tape art form, I think we have to dig deeper.  We need more nuance, more blues.  We need a ballsy woman getting wronged by her man.  Yes, it’s time for Bonnie Raitt.  Every time I listen to “I Can’t Make You Love Me” I get misty, no matter what mood I’m in.  Even typing the title gives me the blues.

But midway through my list making, it occurred to me that to really win my lost customer over, I’d need to get off my knees.  Let her know that she’s walking away from the real deal, baby.  Maybe Brooks and Dunn, “You Better Kiss Me, You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone” would do the trick.  I could go down spectacularly, singing my own praises.  For this, we need Sinatra.  Truly, the independent bookselling theme song should be “I Did It My Way.”  But we’re straying from the mixed tape genre.  Sinatra is more gin soaked bar stool than mixed tape.  Yes, that’s another list altogether.  Song choice 5 should be a little angry.  Not “You Oughtta Know” angry.  Alanis Morissette is too much.  That’s for the irreconcilable difference mixed tape.  Let’s try Melissa Ethridge.  Sure, reader, you could order online, but would you get Spike the cat, or the familiar odor of a carpet left uncleaned for too long?  No.  You need to listen to “Like the Way I Do” and tell me, does Amazon love you like the way I love you?  Do Walgreens or WalMart stimulate you, attract and captivate you?

We could disappear forever in Springsteen looking for song 6.  I’ll just jot down a few key phrases for the liner notes I’ll stick in the cassette case and move on.

Song 6 needs to sing reconciliation.  It needs to leave the door open.  It needs a hook.  It needs to stick  for a long time.

Our last song will echo our first but bring us out of this exercise.  It’s actually filed in the same place in my brain as Bonnie Raitt’s contribution, but this must land us somewhere beyond begging, somewhere beyond despair and into a night of waiting for the phone to ring – (and could we really leave Cyndi Lauper off of a mixed tape?) “Time After Time”.  Yes reader, if you’re lost, you can look and you will find me.  Time after time.



  1. Am I more old-fashioned than you or just older? Song titles that come to my mind are NOBODY KNOWS YOU (WHEN YOU’RE DOWN AND OUT), CRY ME A RIVER, and–oops! There was another, but it slipped away. My antidote to all this bookseller angst is bookseller excitement, which of course I have to create myself but also get big boosts from book authors. Wishing you the same as summer heats up–

    Comment by P.j. grath — June 28, 2011 @ 7:08 am | Reply

  2. So now I read your other post, about how you host 200 events a year, and I see you know all about creating excitement. I know how hard it can be sometimes, too, to break even on big events. Again, wishing us all an enjoyable and profitable summer.

    Comment by P.j. grath — June 28, 2011 @ 10:28 am | Reply

    • Thanks, P.J. I love the “Nobody Knows You (When You’re Down and Out) suggestion. Now there absolutely has to be a “b” side to this mixed tape.

      Comment by Jarek Steele - Left Bank Books — June 28, 2011 @ 11:55 am | Reply

  3. Jay! Where’s Bonnie Tyler, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in this mixed tape? … I feel it must be on there.

    Comment by Anna — June 28, 2011 @ 10:49 am | Reply

  4. I say you start with, “Time After Time”, and end with, “Don’t Stop Believin'”…With Bricks and Mortars, it’s all about the journey…

    Comment by Katie — June 28, 2011 @ 11:58 am | Reply

  5. I agree with “Don’t stop believing,” and I’d add in “I want to be a paperback writer,” by the Beatles. Although new book sales are down this year, our overall sales are up, so I’m a bit less angsty than I was a few months ago.

    Incidentally, isn’t the correct term “mix tape” rather than “mixed tape”? Or — Heaven forfend — “mixtape,” which shows as a misspelling in Firefox but wins a Google fight by a huge margin.

    Comment by garyrobson — June 28, 2011 @ 12:21 pm | Reply

  6. You’re probably right about the mix tape/mixtape correction – further underscored by the plethora of Google results for mixtape, complete with images of actual cassettes bearing the sharpie scrawled “mixtape” on the label. I have no excuse except to say I didn’t Google it before I wrote – a habit I must break!

    Comment by Jarek Steele - Left Bank Books — June 28, 2011 @ 3:50 pm | Reply

  7. In the “Time After Time” vein, Naive Melody by Talking Heads (“If someone asks, this is where I’ll be”)


    Comment by Kathy — June 28, 2011 @ 7:34 pm | Reply

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