Retail Lit: The Other Side of the Counter

I don't think there's an official category for "Retail Lit," but there should be. We just need more books. I spent many years working in retail, but I have precious few books on my shelves that reflect that world. John Updike's short story "A&P" and Steve Martin's novel Shopgirl (Hyperion) come to mind. resizeimageWhen authors do portray retail, they often stay within the familiar realm of bookshops. Recently, however, my retail reading has expanded thanks to a handful of fascinating books exploring life on and beyond the sales floor.

In Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori (Grove Press), Keiko's life is circumscribed by her work world, but she offers profound observations about her co-workers, customers, friends, family and society ("I automatically read the customer's minutest movements and gaze, and my body acts reflexively in response.").

Then there's Ruth in Kate Zambreno's Green Girl(Harper Perennial). A young American living in London, she works very reluctantly as a temp at "Horrids" department store, spritzing perfume samples at customers and judgments upon them: "Sale people are the worst kind of people. They maul through the carefully set up boxes of discount merchandise." The rest of her life is in freefall, but the reader can't look resizeimage 1

Hitomi, a cashier in The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami, translated by Allison Markin Powell (Europa Editions), is also a close observer of her boss, colleagues and customers. I love the way unremarkable, everyday objects in the shop spark profound tales of their own. Kawakami has said: "I wanted to write about the way that not only people butthings can have their own stories."

And my Retail Lit section wouldn't be complete without Julie Gaines's wonderful graphic memoir Minding the Store: A Big Story about a Small Business, illustrated by Ben Lenovitz (Algonquin). Gaines chronicles the quirky history ofFishs Eddy, her now legendary business venture--and adventure--in New York City.