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Posts Tagged ‘Morgantown’

For many of us, it’s fun to read books. The contents within the pages are entertainment, they allow us to escape, or even provoke new ideas. Some of us are challenged by good writing. And I, for one, always wonder what the author of each good story is like. I grew up reading some science fiction and fantasy by Orson Scott Card, and then I found out he was a Mormon. Although I’m leery of the religion, I met Card at a nice, independent bookstore in San Diego. He was engaging, thoughtful, and endearing—everything that I had thought he would be.

I’ve mentioned before in my blogging that I’m not a celebrity hound. I don’t usually care much for the famous—the exciting no-names are more intriguing. But when I added a face and personality to the books that I had read, I felt some sort of tangible connection to the literature. Somehow they seemed more grounded. I’ve met many authors, before and after that encounter with Card, but he will always stand out to me. Now only if I could have lunch with Bill Bryson…

What if I told you that all of you that access to published writers (award-winning and good writers at that!) is usually nothing more than looking in your neighborhood. Here in Morgantown, we’re practically swimming in authors and scholars. After all, most good professors have been published extensively in journals, texts, and even trade books. Some write amazing stories. When I lived in Illinois, I worked at a bookstore while going through undergrad at the University. I commonly sold books from my professors, such as Leaving Atlanta, by Tayari JonesLedbelly, by Tyehimba Jess; and The Echo Maker (winner of the 2006 National Book Award), by Richard Powers. Getting to know the author can be a wonderful way to learn more about the material, and, if you’re an aspiring writer, find out all the secrets to the trade.

Here’s a list of some of Morgantown’s published and award-winning authors, which is by no means comprehensive. I work with the College of Physical Education and Sport Sciences (CPASS), and I study through the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism and the English department, so this list is heavy on the folks I work with, for, and around on a daily basis.

 

Ethel Morgan Smith

Smith is an associate professor at the English department. She is the author of From Whence Cometh My Help. An excerpt:

Determined to give voice to the African American community that served as the silent workforce for Hollins College, Ethel Morgan Smith succeeded in finding individuals to step forward and tell their stories. From Whence Cometh My Helpexamines the dynamics of an institution built on the foundations of slavery and so steeped in tradition that it managed to perpetuate servitude for generations. Interviewing senior community members, Smith gives recognition to the invisible population that provided and continues to provide the labor support for Hollins College for more than 150 years.

Smith specializes in creative nonfiction and African-American literature. She is working on an upcoming project to be detailed within the website but.if.and.that in April, 2011.

Ethel Morgan Smith, author and professor at WVU / Photo courtesy of Ethel Morgan Smith

 

James Harms

Harms is a professor of English at WVU, and is an amazing poet. He has won three Pushcart prizes, he has published several collections of poems, and has appeared in countless publications and magazines. One of my favorite mags, Smartish Pace, featured Harms, and you can even read one of my favorite poems of his here. One of his better collections, in my opinion, is Freeways and Aqueducts, of which the following praise appears from the English department website:

“Atmospheric and often lovely . . . these poems dwell unapologetically in the quotidian, attempting to transform the banal into the sublime. When this succeeds, it does so beautifully. . . . The collection is worth a good read—both for its images of quiet loveliness (‘you cupped my face like handful of water’) and for its masterfully sustained mood, the pleasant ache of chronic homesickness.”

—Verse

 

Mark Brazaitis

Brazaitis has a book on my reading list, which came highly recommended, titled An American Affair: Stories, which won the 2004 George Garrett Fiction Prize. Brazaitis, also a professor at WVU, offers many courses; one of his classes I wish to attend as a grad student is his fiction workshop (also highly recommended to me). For a sample of his writing, you can visit Sun Magazine and read The Boy Behind the Tree. Check it out!

 

Sarah Einstein

Einstein is receiving her MFA from WVU, and is moving on to Ohio, where she’ll be pursuing her PhD. She is the winner of a Pushcart prize for her nonfiction essay Mot, published by Ninth Letter at the University of Illinois (by my alma mater and creative writing department). You can read selections from Mot and a get a unique perspective on the voice of the “other” at but.if.and.that.

Sarah Einstein, Pushcart winner, WVU alum, and all-around great writer / Photo courtesy of Sarah Einstein

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HELL ON EARTH: A Harry Potter book release party

I’m sure most of you have worked in the service industry. It sucks. And usually we can thank the random, oddball customer for making those jobs suck. I’ve waited tables, I’ve sold cell phone plans over the phone, I’ve bartended, I’ve been a cook. But the best/worst customer service job I’ve ever had has been as a bookseller. I’ve heard many people tell me, “Man, I should quit my job waiting tables so I can go sell books,” and I always have to offer rebuttals. For instance, you may have to wait on a picky customer at a restaurant. But that person will usually be gone within an hour. A bookstore patron will never leave. Restaurant patrons usually come in twos or fours. Bookstore patrons are loners; solitary wolves that are usually alone for a reason. Restaurant patrons can secretly insult you by leaving you a bad tip. Bookstore patrons have to resort to much, much worse things to get “even.”

Although I haven’t been a bookseller in Morgantown, I’d have to wager that the industry is the same
everywhere. My friend, Briana, worked at a library, and she regaled me with tales of strange and unusual people. Just after she told me some stories, I read in the news about a man that was caught bathing in the library bathroom, and was arrested for possessing a few pounds of stolen cheese. My mother was a librarian for many years, and she never had a dull day. People would bring their kids to the library and drop them off … for eight hours at a time. “It’s their own government-funded daycare,” she said.

It seems that where books are shelved, strangeness abides.

So what does this have to do with Morgantown? I called and visited with and solicited the opinions of several booksellers and baristas around the area, in addition to some friends and colleagues. I gave them the chance to share some of their stories and tips about customer etiquette. Going against my journalism roots, I have agreed to keep most folks anonymous, and you can understand why. I have comments from employees at two Barnes & Nobles (University Centre and WVU), the Book Exchange, the Wise Library, and Books-a-Million. If you’re on Twitter, let me suggest following @GrumpyBooksellr—you won’t be disappointed. I’ve inserted some of his/her comments in with the rest.

Without further ado, here’s a tip sheet for customers. Warning: it’s not rated.

—I don’t give a shit if you can find the book online cheaper than you can find it here. You want it now, you buy it now. No, no we aren’t going to give you a discount.

—No, we aren’t Borders, and no, we aren’t going out of business. Yet. (Customers have been coming in asking for the ridiculous sales due to some Borders stores closing after filing for bankruptcy)

—Phone: Do you sell Amazon Gift Cards? Me: What? No. Phone: My wife has a Kindle & that would be nice. Me: I’m a bookstore, not Amazon. (GrumpyBooksellr)

—If you’re going to order a half-caf-soy-ice-frappa-crappa-macchiato-with-caramel-sauce-and-whipped-cream you best be tippin’.

—Oh, I love it when people think the café is their freaking living room. A little guy came in here the other day and spent my entire shift here. He did homework, he talked on the phone, he read about 20 magazines, he played on the Internet, he even brought some of his own food in his giant backpack. He left his mess for me to clean up, and he had folded the magazines over to read them. I think he justified this because he bought a small coffee when he first arrived. No tip.

—Dear Self-Published Author: It’s not my fault you lose money on every sale. No is going to buy your whiny self-discovery schlock for $24. (GrumpyBooksellr)

—Guys, please pee in the stand-up urinal. Flush. Wash your hands. DON’T TAKE BOOKS IN THERE WITH YOU. Gross.

—Well, it’s always frustrating when someone asks for a book they just heard about on the news and they don’t know who wrote it, what it’s called, what it’s really about. My only clue is that if it’s in the news it’s probably a new release.

—Kids should not be allowed to play “Marco Polo” in the stacks.

—It’s not a library. People can talk to each other. If you don’t like it, um, go to a library. But people probably talk there to. Maybe you should just go home.

—Please don’t put the Bibles in the gay studies section. Please don’t put the Bibles in Fiction. Please don’t put Glenn Beck in gay studies. Please don’t put Sarah Palin in Fiction. Although it’s really funny where Palin turns up sometimes.

—Me: Sure, I’ll tie up ~$300 ordering art books you may not want when you see them. No Problem. We are all about customer service.

—It’s a sex book and you’re buying it. Get over it. (On the various men that get really nervous when buying erotica or ‘how-to’ manuals)

—Dude, I really want to puke when the high schoolers come in here and make out and fondle each other. See that chair? It’s for one person, not for two people to dry-hump each other.

—Me: No, Please, kick the mud off your shoes *after* [you] get to our carpeted area. (GrumpyBooksellr)

—This isn’t the movies. There’s no need to bring your food in with you while you browse.
—I have waited tables too, and there’s something that restaurants and bookstores have in common that no one will tell you: leave your damn kids at home. We hate them. Some of them. Well, most of them. No, we hate them.

—Me: I know you’re enjoying your time here but, please, don’t whistle along with your iTunes while you read. Not everyone knows the songs. (GrumpyBooksellr)

—Hey, we love it when people think we’re the world’s greatest place to take a dump. I had a customer actually tell me we had the best public bathrooms. TMI, creeper. Please don’t use my name [when you write this]. He’ll know exactly who I am.

—For some reason a lot of Asian kids ¬ students ¬ try to order their textbooks through us. It’s really hard to explain to them that it’s best if they order textbooks online or at a textbook store. Welcome to America, home of nonsensical businesses. So if I had to give advice to customers, I’d tell them to get their textbooks elsewhere.

—Me: Don’t drag me around asking all sorts of questions about every book, then telling me you can get it cheaper somewhere else & leave. (GrumpyBooksellr)

I will take some time to regale you with my own bookstore stories in a future post. They’re awesome. Meanwhile, for those of you who stay tuned, I’m working on a Wise Library book scavenger hunt to win free hardcover and paperback bestsellers. Keep an eye out for the clues to come.

Sarah Geiger and two little Potter minions at the coloring station. This is why booksellers do what they do. Sorta.

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A view from along the rail trail near downtown Morgantown, photo by Aaron Geiger

Morgantown, West Virginia is one of the most unique places in the United States: it is close to Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio; it is surrounded by wilderness and Appalachia; it is home to West Virginia University; it is the mother to a grand cultural mix of health care, coal mining, environmentalism, academia, pharmacology, athletics, and outdoor recreation. We’d venture to say the diversity of lifestyles is probably the most dynamic you’re going to find in the area.

That’s why we’ve decided to start a blog to clue some of Morgantown’s masses, potential students, and curious bystanders in on some of the more intimate and hidden areas of the town and its surrounding townships and hollers. We will focus on a different lifestyle each weekday, to be repeated each week. We’ll also do some smaller lifestyle vignettes on Fridays (that will not be repeated). We encourage you, the reader, to participate in adding your lifestyle and interests to our pages. We are inclusive. We are Mountaineers.

Mondays – Kirk Auvil will take you into the lives of gamers and hobbyists at the start of each week. Morgantown is home to a large crowd of enthusiasts, and they are passionate about what they do.

Tuesdays – Aaron Geiger ventures into the literary world of WVU, downtown Morgantown, and surrounding areas to investigate the weird lives of bibliophiles, verbal miscreants, and lingual voices. On its own, WVU hosts some incredible writers, poets, authors, and speakers. You can expect a Bryson-esque barrage of dry humor and interesting facts every Tuesday.

Wednesdays – Toni Cekada looks at the bread-and-butter of Morgantown and WVU: the spirit of volunteerism. From sending books to prisoners, to chronicling the Faces in the Mine to providing innovative outreach to the homeless, the town is a wonderful place to get your giving-back on. Expect Toni to unearth ways to volunteer you never knew existed, but always felt you should have been told.

Thursdays – Keri Gero investigates a little-known, but popular fact of Morgantown: pets and their owners. From jogging the rail trail with your dog, to finding apartments with dog parks and cat-friendly housing, to exploring the local shelters and dog-massaging parlors, Keri will bring the cultural gem of animal-friendly Morgantown to you.

Fridays – One of us will offer up a new vignette each week, maybe more, that will look into other lifestyles of Morgantown: the gay community, the Latino foundation, rifle team members, extreme sport enthusiasts—you name it. We’ll also take guest contributors here, too!

Thanks, and enjoy our site.

 

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