There are good things and bad things about working at a newspaper, both of which are very difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t. This is the main reason, I think, that Hollywood gets the journalism profession, particularly print journalism, so wrong so often in TV and film. “The Media” seems so omnipresent in our lives that it’s easy to think we know everything about how it works, but “The Media” is Anderson Cooper, not me copy-editing a story about a meeting of the local teachers’ union. Newspapers operate in a universe all their own, a mostly unchanging daily routine of minute details and endless jargon. It can be exciting and also exceptionally boring.
The best days to be a newspaper person, in my view, are Election Day (lots of breaking news and free pizza) and the day of the annual book sale. I can’t say if the latter is something that happens at every newspaper, but it’s a ritual I came to love at the ones that have employed me.
Over the course of the year, various authors and publishing houses send copies of new books in for review, and on book sale day, employees are allowed to browse through them all and buy them for a few dollars each depending on their size. Most are books you’ve never heard of, books that only you will read, but there are also hidden gems, soon-to-be best-sellers and tomes you might never have heard of otherwise. And really, if a book is only $3, it’s worth buying, right? (Warning: This philosophy may force you to buy many, many, many bookshelves and make moving a huge pain.)
There are strategies to book sale day. You can go early for the best selection, but morning is also when prices are at their highest. A previous employer of mine marked everything down after 4 p.m. to all you could fit in a box for $10.
Unfortunately for me this year (but fortunately for my lack of space at home), I missed the memo announcing the book sale and didn’t realize it was going on until I showed up for a night shift and saw the women in charge of it starting to pack up. Without much time to work with I only found four, but for $12 total, a pretty good haul.
- Arthur Conan Doyle, A Life in Letters by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower and Charles Foley
- Learning to Drive and Other Life Stories by Katha Pollit
- The Story of Sushi, an Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice by Trevor Corson
- Flash of Genius and Other True Stories of Invention by John Seabrook