Mid-20s Malaise

Struggling against the inevitable since 1986!

National Bookshop Day 2

Wow, after going onto MySpace to retrieve my earlier post about Segways, I’ve been perusing the few entries on that blog. It sure deserves the title Mid-20s Malaise more than this collection of vaguely unsatisfied mutterings: what a pit of vitriol that thing is! Once again, to celebrate National Bookshop Day, I bring you the story of a sanctimonious bitch I had to smile at and be nice to back in 2007. I still remember the powerlessness I felt as she was mouthing off and I had to shut up and keep myself to myself. Try to remember stories like this next time you feel like hassling a young and underpaid retail lackey:

As anybody who has ever spoken to me for more than, ooh, twenty seconds will be aware, I work in retail and it crushes my soul. (Well, it would if I had a soul, but that opens can upon can of metaphysical worms that I don’t have time to deal with right now.) It’s mostly awful because it’s boring, degrading and you have to be polite to people who are incredibly rude because the company wants their money. I try to take it all in my stride, but occasionally I encounter a customer whose stupidity is so awesome that I must share.

Recently, for a reason unbeknownst to me, I have been rostered on to work in the children’s section. Normally, I love children, but I hate working in this section. The problem isn’t the children. It’s their parents. I realise that children have a limited understanding of right and wrong, and this is where parents need to step in, rather than using our bookshop as a babysitter which their children are free to desecrate as they see fit. Sure, I’m only 21 and have no children of my own, but I have frequently looked after six or seven children at a time, and successfully taken them on outings that haven’t resulted in them causing wilful damage to private property.

But enough of that. I have a story for you.

The other day, I was serving a customer and, while still chatting to this customer (you know, comments about the weather, the beautiful furniture on the cover of the magazine she bought, and other such pleasant, pointless natter), another customer comes up and starts talking to me without so much as an “Excuse me”.

“I was looking for a book for my twelve-year-old son,” she says. “And this is the second one I came across with sex in it!” She went on to discuss how it was disgusting that this was in the intermediate fiction section, how we should read and appropriately label every book that comes into the shop and so on. Firstly, I was mad because she was holding up The Messenger by Markus Zusak, one of my favourite authors. He writes beautifully and, as I told her, I believe he has many appropriate things to say about humanity. Furthermore, I told her (but not so eloquently), the book is very obviously shelved in the young adult section, designed for people between the ages of thirteen and eighteen (to which she declared “I would be horrified to think of my seventeen-year-old son reading this!” to which I thought “Well, sugar, prepare to be horrified, because your seventeen-year-old son is probably batting off to animal porn right now”). Finally, I said, if you read the blurb on the back, it mentions in the first sentence that there is sex in the book. Heaven forbid this woman take an interest in what her children are reading and discuss it with them! She claimed to be a child psychologist, and my heart went out to her poor patients: what kind of damage is this limiting attitude to sexuality doing to them?

I was reading books with sex in them by the fifth grade (the earliest one I can remember being The Dead Of The Night by John Marsden). Of course, his discussion of sex (and the emotions that went with it) dealt with situations I wasn’t familiar with, but the same can be said of the book’s wilderness-and-war storyline. There’s always a place for adolescent literature that deals with sex in a thoughtful and mature way. I mentioned to this woman that I know The Messenger is a Board of Studies-approved English text (a good friend will be using it with his Year Nine class later this year). So, not only has Zusak’s book gone through strict editing and classifying by his publisher, it has also been read, judged and deemed appropriate by dozens of teachers who are responsible for the intellectual and emotional health of teenagers.

Anyway, I could go on, but I’m already mad and probably boring you. But jeez, lady, you know what happens when you tell people what they can and can’t read? You get Nazi Germany. (Ironically, Zusak’s first adult novel, The Book Thief, is about a young girl in Nazi Germany who steals forbidden books. It is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read, and I suggest you all read it – preferably after buying it, so that Zusak makes lots of money and continues writing. That’ll make my crazy friend roll over in her emotional grave.)

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