Person of the Week
Sarah “Jonesey” Johnson
Being a bookseller is a very wonderful lifestyle. Some of the payoff is in the work itself – knowing you are actively involved in doing something that you believe in. I connect the outside world to the one that happens in the books.
1. What led you to the mission of being a bookseller?
I have always been involved with books in one way or another. I grew up in an academic family and I have been reading since I was three years old. Then I was a bookseller many, many years ago. This was a part time job I only had for about six months and this job stuck with me.
When I moved to St. Louis, I found office work, but it just felt so empty. One day I needed a boost and applied at Left Bank Books. I found out that all of the things I loved to do, I could do in a place where I could sell books. It meant I could interact with people. It meant that I could be a part of a community. It meant that I could access books. That’s what led me to apply for the job.
2. What does this mission mean to you?
Being a bookseller is a very wonderful lifestyle. It’s something that is very challenging, fulfilling, and a lot of hard work. Some of the payoff is in the work itself – knowing you are actively involved in doing something that you believe in.
In terms of work, it means that I can connect people with a lifeline to the outside world. It means I can know the people in my community. It also means I can get involved with people who are not a part of the community.
People who buy books are amazing people. The store is perpetually filled with people who have an enormous amount of experience, they ask questions, and they are just delightful. Being a bookseller means being surrounded by people that I “get”. It also means that I work very hard to be a responsible conduit acknowledging people’s interests and connecting them to available books, author events, and story time. I connect the outside world to the one that happens in the books.
3. What was your best day as a bookseller?
There are two that stand out and they are markedly different. One of them was a story time that we had about two weeks ago. I talked and listened to the parents and they were so positive about their child’s experiences at story time. I found out that one child had made a craft during story time and it was still hanging up in her bedroom. This was huge for me – a beautiful moment of thinking, “Cool. I did something months before and this child still thought it was great!” It was really cool to hear this story repeated from a mother. I have such a good time with the kids and with the books. This is something I can look forward to several times a week.
My other favorite event is when an author came to the store. It was this crazy night when we had twice as many people as we thought we would have. We almost sold out of the books. The event ran long. We were short staffed. But, it was so much fun! The author was so charming and so together. He just wanted to sign books and talk to fans. He had a great presentation and we just had a blast! I didn’t even care that it was a really long night, because we had so much fun. Those were two of my favorite events.
4. What was your worst day as a bookseller?
My worst day as a bookseller can’t even begin to compare with all my best days — so I need to put this into perspective. I had a very long day at the store. We had an early morning event. I had my responsibilities during the day. Then we had an event at night. That day was really, really long. I was exhausted. Halfway through the day, I thought, “I don’t know whether I can get through this!”
Then I remembered that this is what it means to be a bookseller. A normal work shift is about eight hours, but that day we worked about ten and a half. During months when there are really big events, it’s not unusual for people to work at least one twelve-hour day.
There are people who do this job and work twelve to fourteen hours a day, seven days a week, for a month sometimes – because that’s what needs to be done. You keep perspective about it and remember that everybody else is there for you. This is not a job that we do alone. We have rapport. It was good to know that I got through it and that I could do it again.
5. How did you survive your worst day?
I remained focused and remembered to stop every now and then to have a laugh with a coworker. Another thing I do is to remember that I have a standard of professionalism to live up to. Left Bank Books has been in operation for forty-three years and we have a standard of professionalism. Having that standard, helps enormously. Of course everything is going to get done. Of course we are all going to be professional. Of course people are going to feel welcomed. Of course it is going to be fun. Knowing this helps enormously – knowing that there really isn’t the space to not get through it. We just do.
I think on this day we drank a lot of water and I even had coffee late in the day – which I usually don’t do. It also helps to be able to work as a team. We can say, “OK. Take a break. Go to the back and be quiet for a while. We’ll take care of this.” Then we take a few minutes and then come right back.
Even though I am very happy in what I do as a job or career, my life happens outside of that as well. I have to remind myself that I need to take care of me – eat well, sleep well, and also do the things that make me feel well, like go for walks or go to a movie.
So being a bookseller relates to a lifestyle that is very thoughtful, challenging, focused, flexible, and is an opportunity to make many decisions. It’s a lifestyle that makes me feel better and more involved in my life.