A Day in the Life of a Christmas Bookseller

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Our festive workload was eased this year by Barney and Katy, our wonderful Christmas booksellers. We've sadly had to bid them farewell, for this year at least, but not before asking Barney to reflect on his experiences.

I relish the mechanical tasks of this job. The oddly meditative peace that small repetitive movements afford, and the opportunity to quickly become extremely proficient at them, is highly pleasurable. Example: loyal and notably wonderful customers of the London Review Bookshop receive a free Christmas card bundle. Five cards and five envelopes in an implausibly thin plastic wallet, tied with ribbon to secure a branded pencil. You streamline the process of assembling this parcel until it seems you have realised the holy duumvirate of maximum grace through maximum efficiency. Only the laws of physics and your feeble organic form prevent further improvement. You have become the great white shark of packing LRB Christmas cards (the method for which, by the way, is as follows: all five envelopes in at once, flap-side facing the back of the wallet; three cards facing backwards, on top of envelopes, slipped in using the adhesive lip of the wallet as a grip and to ensure the cards remain parallel (any deviation of more than about 5 degrees will instantly split the wallet’s fragile seams); remaining two cards slowly inserted face forwards, with firm pressure applied – the cards need to be tessellated like this because the uneven thickness at their folded edge would create an overwhelming and devastating pressure on one side of the wallet; adhesive strip unpeeled and applied with significant force, to ensure adhesion with opposite edge of wallet rather than the protruding contents; ribbon unwound and, once tri-cep reaches approximately familiar level of stress, cut; ribbon placed width-ways across front of wallet and flipped over; ribbon ends lifted until equilibrant force achieved, then crossed and pulled perpendicularly to top and bottom edge of the wallet; flip over again, ribbon ends re-meet at 0 of x-axis, thereby establishing y-axis, where a half knot is pulled hard and fourth finger applied on top to retain tension, while simple bow tied and tightened; pencil tip inserted under 0-point of both axes, pointing south-west; put on pile; repeat). My counterpart Katy P. developed the exact same method in her shift at card-packing, entirely independently of my own process, which suggests either an innate human will to improve, or a kind of spiritual entropy toward laziness and ease, or neither.

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