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4 things one year of working in a bookshop has taught me 📚

A meaningful chapter.

By Eva SmittePublished about a year ago Updated 11 months ago 7 min read
Top Story - June 2023
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4 things one year of working in a bookshop has taught me 📚
Photo by Iñaki del Olmo on Unsplash

Last month marked exactly one year since I began working part time in a lovely bookshop in Marylebone, London. A place that from the start felt like home. A place of learning from interesting people and books about all kinds of things - about the world and its mysteries, about the human condition, as well as about myself. One thing is more clear than ever - certain environments bring out the best in us. The bookshop environment is one such place for me. Even in childhood, one of my favourite places to be in, was a particular library in my hometown. And while in the last decade I didn’t visit many libraries , every time I stepped a foot into various bookshops, I would notice my nervous system instantly becoming more regulated, resulting in my body and mind feeling relaxed and simultaneously more energised. A sea of books occupying many shelves is still my safe place and a source of inspiration. Which is why getting this job felt like something out of a movie, a dream come true.

“You deserve to be in the environments that bring out the softness in you, not the survival in you.”

~Ronne Brown

By Tbel Abuseridze on Unsplash

While there are many lessons and realisations that happened in the course of the year spent in this new place , some insights are especially applicable to the path I am on, namely a healing journey of coming back home to myself. Without further ado, here are some things I discovered and rediscovered since embarking upon this new role of a bookshop assistant.

1. Age is truly just a number.

This was one of the first things I noticed and was enormously inspired by. Amongst the regular visitors of our bookshop, there is a significant amount of people in their sixties, seventies, and even eighties, who are so very youthful in their energy; with sharp minds, lively sense of humour, and fire in their eyes. Eager to live, to learn, to laugh. At the same time their playfulness and high energy levels do not take away from the wisdom one inevitably acquires at this stage of life, in fact they enrich it.

Needless to say, my observations were a stark contrast to what the societal conditioning around the older age looks like. Of course in theory I always knew that a different way was possible, and personally knew the embodied examples of it , however in this case I was faced with a high concentration of what I can only label as inspirational role models, which was a good reminder not to fall for the fear mongering in relation to ageing we are subjected to in our culture.

It has to be added that our bookshop isn’t purely intellectual, we have a lot of spiritually inclined books. Hence why people who are its frequent visitors, aren’t identified with just their body or their mind, but are also aware of their connection to the higher power. Not in a religious way that requires a middle man to assist in one’s communication with the divine , but in a way of cultivating a personal relationship with it. Perhaps this awareness , the intention to explore this part of themselves is something that can infuse the physical body with more resources when biologically they are expected to decrease.

2. Individuality flourishes when we are active in our element.

In this journey called life we oftentimes pick up very limiting beliefs about ourselves due to the various experiences and interactions, especially in the environments and connections where there wasn’t an adequate mirroring established, aka we were not truly seen. While of the most importance in childhood , I believe it can be further reinforced down the line , for example when we do jobs that aren’t well suited for our individual strengths and weaknesses. For instance, I am not a pushy sales person, a quality very much celebrated in the retail environment, and while in certain places in the past this fact made me feel inadequate, now I know that this simply isn’t my personal strength, my gifts lie elsewhere. Modern society tends to reward speed, the faster something can happen, the better. We are all in a rush, and hardly ever appreciate the present moment. The relationship one has with books is by default about slowing down in order to connect to something communicated by the inner world of another. You cannot push this to happen, it is an intimate thing, and people are drawn to certain books for a reason. You can only help to facilitate a process.

At the same time I discovered new sides to me, the ones I previously didn’t have a chance to utilise at work. Turns out I am not nearly as introverted as I thought ; in the environment which shares my values and interests, chatting with people you just met for the first time, isn’t much of a challenge. Perhaps because those conversations tend to be meaningful, as opposed to the small talk, unlike in most social settings.

By Clay Banks on Unsplash

3. I regained the appreciation of books.

In the current age when technology moves at a rapid speed, digitalising everything in its sight, I believe that physical books are becoming even more sacred than they were before. There is no doubt a massive added value with the arrival of electronic books, Kindle and other written digital resources, making reading materials more accessible to more people for either lesser cost, or even for free. Obviously our beloved Vocal is also a digital platform, and I am utilising it as I write this, which allows me to reach people on the other side of the world. We should certainly be grateful that our generation is able to read anything we want as a result of tapping a fingertip on the screen.

The downside of this however, is that with the amount of content we are able to easily access online, there is a certain degree of devaluation that inevitably follows . I have so many books I am potentially interested in, saved both as samples, as well as the purchased copies in my Kindle app, that I often don’t know where to begin, and feel like a kid in a candy shop. Then there is the phenomena of the algorithm which quickly learns what you favour, and offers you more of the same, which can lead to even more distraction and inability to stick to the text in front of you.

Additionally, with the arrival of recent AI developments, namely ChatGPT , an increased potential for plagiarism is very much an issue, not to mention that a lot more online content is becoming less personal, less human and less real. I feel we must strive to keep the balance of the digital and the physical, and preserve old school books as they connect us to our history and humanity. Yes, there is the whole sustainability issue and the need to save the trees, but compared to let’s say the newspapers that are relevant for a day or a week, certain books if preserved well, can be relevant for years, decades and even centuries.

By Hatice Yardım on Unsplash

4. The last but not the least. I received confirmation that some places genuinely care about mental health of their staff , instead of just saying so on paper.

We live in times when there is an increasing awareness and the understanding of the importance of mental health. Which is a good thing. However, for many people and places, it is simply a popular trend to follow; virtue signalling on the outside, without a necessary inner transformation. A quck online search provides plenty of evidence of the above mentioned hypocrisy , as apparently it is still very much a norm for people to experience bullying culture at work. What I personally found the most surprising, is that according to the multiple reviews left by the ex employees, bullying culture is a thing even in the mental health charity sector. Sadly, whenever there is a hierarchy established , there is also a good chance of one of the least attractive expressions of human nature, namely a “power trip” to emerge.

However, that was not the case this time, and when my mental health dipped as a result of severe stress in other areas of my life, to my relief I was met with understanding and empathy, rather than prejudice and impatience, which is how too many people still treat the invisible human struggles, as opposed to the visible physical health injuries.

Systemic change is slower to occur than the individual, precisely because the system is comprised of individuals, and so relies on a certain amount of them changing first. Which is why it is extremely refreshing to encounter places where the structural hierarchy, which is very much necessary in order for a workplace system to function, does not result in the unhealthy dynamics of the dominance, lack of respectful communication etc. Benevolent leadership is supposed to be protective and inclusive, and it is my belief that as a society we are gradually transitioning into the healthier ways of relating, both personally and professionally. Working with people who embody those values naturally, gives me hope for humanity.

We all need places where our soul feels nourished, and I am very grateful to have one which I can also call my job.

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About the Creator

Eva Smitte

Writer, model, mental health advocate. Instagram @eva_smitte

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Comments (16)

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  • Justine Crowley8 months ago

    Great experience. Some of these retail jobs are actually life changing. It would be fun to aim to work in a bookshop part-time, and/or a tea shop as well. You have summed the dynamics nicely, well done.

  • Excellent and well-deserved Top Story. If you are on Facebook we would love to welcome you to the Vocal Social Society where we have featured this in our Community Adventure series

  • Jacqueline Leigh12 months ago

    wow looking forward to reading more...

  • Daniel Lai12 months ago

    Lovely sharing your experience working in the bookshop!

  • Awesome ✨ 🎉💖Congratulations on your Top Story❗

  • I resonated with so much of what you've said here. I've never worked in a library before but I have in retail. I was a retail Nutritionist for 5 years. So yes, this resonated a lot. I also loved that quote by Ronne Brown. Congratulations on your Top Story! I've subscribed to you!

  • Jay Kantor12 months ago

    Dear Eva - I "Value" your Voice ~ You Card Catalog Me ~ and I don't like "Pushy" from anybody either. I'm so glad that I've just discovered your lovely presentations *As I scroll through them I've subscribed to you with pleasure - Jay Jay Kantor, Chatsworth, California 'Senior' Vocal Author - Vocal Author Community -

  • Samuel Ichu12 months ago

    Your writing style is exceptionally awesome. Great piece.

  • lissa jadeabout a year ago

    Your article is such an intimate insight into working for passion versus survival; being surrounded by people who nourish you is important. I would also love to work in a bookstore one day, I think that is something which would bring out the softness in me along with working in a lab :)

  • Judey Kalchik about a year ago

    I spent 17 years as a bookstore employee in many roles, another seven supporting them, and now work at a nonprofit that helps them during emergencies. Your story made me smile with the recognition of book people reading about other book people! Beautiful

  • Chloe Gilholyabout a year ago

    I would like to come to this bookshop. The only bookshop we have in Banbury is Waterstones, but fortunately we have two libraries, phone box library and lots of charity books that sells them.

  • Ashley Limaabout a year ago

    This is lovely! Working in a bookshop sounds so romantic. I'm so glad you love your job. Congrats on TS :)

  • Gerald Holmesabout a year ago

    I love your writing style in this. You don't just throw facts around but you make it personnel to the reader. Your last line is perfect it reads like poetry. Congrats.

  • Kendall Defoe about a year ago

    Thank you for this! Good work breaking it down so well... 🙂

  • Naomi Goldabout a year ago

    Wow! This was so beautifully written, and you made many great points. I loved this paragraph: “It has to be added that our bookshop isn’t purely intellectual, we have a lot of spiritually inclined books. Hence why people who are its frequent visitors, aren’t identified with just their body or their mind, but are also aware of their connection to the higher power. Not in a religious way that requires a middle man to assist in one’s communication with the divine , but in a way of cultivating a personal relationship with it.” I do tarot and astrology readings professionally. While I read a wide variety of books from different decades and genres, I was in love with a metaphysical bookstore when I lived in Portland. They had all the typical goodies—crystals, incense, reiki infused candles, oracle decks. But they had a huge selection of books. And something about the clientele they attracted gave the place such a warm and welcoming vibe. I felt good any time I browsed there. I believe that as creators, we need to have a personal relationship with the ultimate creator, and tap into that power. I agreed with what you said about the overwhelming choices of what to read in the digital age. I have so many physical books on my shelf I haven’t read, but also things on my kindle app I’ve not opened yet. You made a wonderful point about timeless literature being more important than newspapers. I also had to nod my head in agreement when you talked about virtue signaling from the same people who are bullies, but I could write an entire story about that! Congrats on a well deserved Top Story. 🥂

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