You’ll be shocked to know that I’ve not been on the front lines of battle. Though I registered for the draft in college (my father told me he wouldn’t pay for schooling if I did not), I figured I would get kicked out for being gay soon enough. It was even before the age of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” but under that criterion, I still wouldn’t make it. I’ve always been a teller.
For someone who’s a bit squeamish about violence, I’ve still read a good number of war novels. You can’t help it if you’re a broad reader. The sorrows of war have of course given us some of the greatest works of fiction of all time; if you don’t read The Red Badge of Courage at sometime in your life, some might call you an incomplete person. Good thing they force feed it to you in most high schools. There's a new edition out from Harvard University Press, by the way.
Last year when I was working at Schwartz Bookshops, we got behind an incredible novella by Richard Bausch, one of those writer’s writers that are so hard to break out. Harder still, his identical twin brother Robert was also writing, and honestly, it’s been hard to separate their oeuvre in my head.
But this book stuck out like a bullet in a game of marbles, and we had four amazing reads on it. I pretty much had to drop everything and get with the program.
The take—an amazing book, based on one incident at the end of World War II Italy, an act in the gray zone between act of war and atrocity thereof. Beautiful, dark, poetic, but incredibly accessible in its simplicity.
We were lucky to have Bausch read at the Downer shop, because my coworker Bishop (one of the book's early champions) found out he was a writer-in-residence at nearby Beloit College. At his talk, Bausch revealed that the story came from a story told by his own father. The story was like a gift to his son, and Peace is like a Father’s Day gift back to Dad, in memoriam.
We sold a lot of books, and what a sense of purpose this kind of sale gives you.
It’s a year later, and Peace is out in paperback. Schwartz and all my wonderful coworkers have moved on, not to be too heavy-handed or anything. They just have other jobs or life paths; Dave is now the trade book buyer for Mequon's Next Chapter Bookshop. I am sure that all of them are off to greater things.
Like in battle, it’s almost circumstantial that I’m still fighting the good fight in a bookstore. I can't tell you how many folks, while happy that Boswell Book Company has opened, seem hopeful but not necessarily confident. Despite what I read in books like Marketing Warfare, and Leadership Secrets of Atilla the Hun, I don’t generally choose to see the marketplace as a battlefield, but it’s hard not to see the parallels, when the critics all predict the bookstore's impending surrender to the online marketplace.
We don’t last forever, and legacies can be measured in different ways. Certainly for Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops, one of those ways is every person’s life who was changed by a book they bought from Harry, David, Reva, Carol, Rebecca and all the booksellers who worked there.
I’m hoping there are new legacies to come, and I’m hoping that a book is involved, and I’m hoping that one of them is Richard Bausch’s Peace.
The Bookstore Conversation I Dread
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