“Again. Again, today, I was asked if I read. Considering I sit behind the cash register of a small independent book store, day in and day out, surrounded with literature, poetry and philosophy, this question baffles me. It’s baffling but also incredibly insulting. I congratulate these folks on their courage to ask what might be the most absurd and demeaning question available to them while in the book store. I also congratulate them on their grace as their jaws drop when I answer in the positive, adding that I am also an owner of the place.“
On several days out of a given week, customers walking in may find themselves face-to-face with a woman sitting behind the cash register of our little shop. When she’s not researching titles to add to the shop’s distilled collection, she can give you great recommendations based out of experience, intuition and intelligence. Her name is Meaghan Acosta, a co-owner and indelible member of the partnership since November 2011, when the Argo entered its fourth generation of ownership.
Recently, the online journal of general literary excitement Encore Magazine published an incisive article written by Meaghan Acosta about her experience as both a female bookseller and business owner in lieu of the original author Norm Sibum‘s current hiatus (whose posts are also a recommended read).
But enough with any further digression: This fantastic article is culled together from experiences as a book retailer in the past three years, and it offers numerous revelations not only on the treatment of women in the ‘workplace’ (bookselling and abroad), but also in the world of literature at large:
“I am forced, for the sake of stocking shelves, to sift through many catalogues put out by publishers. I say forced because rarely am I satisfied with what I find there. Random House is perhaps the best example of what I detest about the publishing industry at the moment. If one were to go through their front list simply by looking at the covers of the books, one would surely notice the fact that almost every book written by a woman is packaged in a rigid and formulaic manner. Generally, there is an image of a woman, or parts of a woman, composed in such a way as to evoke feelings of forlornness, helplessness/brokenness, melancholy and/or loss. The font is almost always cursive and ‘pretty’ and the blurbs, more often than not, contain at least one review from a women’s magazine such as Elle,Vogue or Vanity Fair. These magazines are filled with trite, mostly fashion and beauty-related articles. Following a brief stint in high school during which I read these things, I have never since gone to them, particularly for my reading list, lest I contract illiteracy while stuck in that purgatorial region that births articles with titles like: “Panty trade: women who sell their underwear to men. Seriously.””
The article as a whole is at once supplementary to oft-shared articles by writers like Roxane Gay and websites like Everyday Sexism, but also stands apart as a two-tiered perspective on the experience of disseminating and digesting the literary in a gender-stilted world. As much as we will tell ourselves, and go so far as to establish in ‘official’ capacities, it’s important to remind ourselves that the preconceptions and pitfalls are still there, however dwindling or omnipresent we consider them to be.