Thursday, July 16, 2009

Goodbye to all that

Today is my last day at McNally Jackson Books. Tomorrow I will be the full-time proprietor of Greenlight Bookstore.

It feels weirdly like the last day of high school.

Remember that? If you were like me, you knew exactly where you were headed, and you were excited to be going there, stomach full of butterflies for the unknown adventure ahead. But there was also an almost unbearable nostalgia-in-the-making for all you were about to leave behind: the place, the people, the quirks, the routine. There's so much you learned here, both practical and philosophical, and so much you loved. It makes for a pretty intense set of emotions. (Which run the risk of sounding incredibly sappy when articulated.)

There's something about working in an indie bookstore which makes for a much more emotionally heightened workplace atmosphere than, say, working in an office. Some of us call it the "Empire Records phenomenon" (which is the best silly '90s movie about indie retail life ever -- highly recommended if you are of a certain age and sensibility, though I take no responsibility for it.) I've noticed a similar sense of cameraderie working in a restaurant -- the amount of physical work you do together makes for a set of shared jokes, systemic quirks, annoyances, and ways of working with and around each other that tends to bond coworkers pretty quickly.
But I think it's even more pronounced in a bookstore (and maybe a record store) -- there's a shared intellectual life as well as a shared physical experience. Not that we sit around and talk about Literature all day, but we're all doing this because we love books in our own particular way, and our engagement with books is part of our engagement with each other.

Additionally, I've never worked anywhere that the employees were as engaged and invested in the life of the bookstore as they are at McNally Jackson. This is primarily Sarah McNally's doing: she is both a visionary and an expert delegator, finding for each person the area of expertise where they can excel and giving them a great deal of autonomy in running it. Displays, signage, section maintenance, book clubs, and yes, author events are in a constant state of tweaking and improving, because they are run by booksellers who have the opportunity to figure out how to make things work better. This, too, makes for a strong bond to the store itself, since we all have a very real role in its existence and identity.

There are a million other reasons why working at McNally Jackson has been a rewarding and affecting experience -- but I'm running out of time.

Allison, John T., Katie, Dustin, Adjua, Yvette, David, Cheryl, Erin, Rebecca, Stewart, Angela, Doug, Brook, Eddie, Darrell, Sam, Jane, Byron, Gabi, Eva, Sandy, Keala, Caroline, John M., Yvonne, Javier -- you are damn fine booksellers and friends of mine, and I will miss you.

After tonight's author event, we're going out to a local watering hole for a proper drunken sendoff. I'm grateful for a moment to savor what has been, before turning my eyes to what's ahead.