It sounds like a wonderful indie movie that a discerning cinema goer would really enjoy, doesn’t it? Actually this post celebrates the legendary American bookseller Poor Carl, who was invited to address the 54th Annual Congress of the Outer Mongolian People’s Booksellers. Poor, the guiding genius behind Shamm & Dumm Bookshoppe, one of the preeminent independent bookstores of Southwestern Michigan, has honored us with the text of his speech, which from beginning to end makes for supremely fascinating reading. Here are his profound words as he will deliver them:
Greetings, fellow booksellers!
I’m flattered that when the word went out that IMASNOB (the Independent Marketing Association of New and Old Booksellers) was looking for someone to send to Outer Mongolia my staff immediately suggested me, despite knowing that they would be deprived of my presence for several weeks. Similarly my fellow revered community leaders also told me that I was the person they’d most like to see sent to Outer Mongolia, though one colleague expressed that it was a shame that I couldn’t be put on a "slow boat to China," no doubt because that country’s large bookseller population could also benefit from my unique experience and startling insights.
Your leader, King Khan, has asked me to address the question of how the independent booksellers of America can balance our "noble desires for the improvement of the people with the predatory bandit culture of the capitalist west."
Let me start by telling you a few of the myriad things I’ve personally done to revolutionize the book selling universe. One of my visionary insights is this – illiteracy is a barrier to book selling. Studies have shown that if people cannot read, the probability of buying a book decreases over 99%, and even then their projected purchase will be a volume with "a lot of dirty pitchers," exactly the kind of book we refuse to sully our hands with at Shamm & Dumm Bookshoppe. To that end we received a grant for $125,000 from my personal friends at the Michigan Arts Council in order to institute a book festival in support of literacy. I am more than proud that under my compelling oversight this festival raised over $450 last year, a portion of which will eventually be donated to a local literacy group. Even more amazingly, exit surveys of the 67 people who attended the three days of events showed that not one illiterate person over the age of eighteen was present, an accomplishment that almost humbles me.
Here’s another example of my cultural advocacy. When the United States commenced military operations in Iraq, myself and twelve other booksellers got together at a long table to drink wine, break bread and discuss what we could do to make ourselves feel better about the situation. Out of that night came the Read or Else, America! program, an effort to persuade local populations to read books from other countries in order to permit them to understand where the rest of the world was coming from. Inspired by this trip, the book I last selected for the program was the fascinating non-fiction work The Nose Hairs of Genghis Khan by your own noted writer Khan Jobb. As I myself read it, I began to realize how that great leader’s exalted destiny so resembles my own. If everyone reads the book as I suggest, perhaps the next time armies from Outer Mongolia come to sack the western world we won’t judge them so harshly.
But the second part of King Khan’s question remains. In today’s competitive environment how is it possible that I can do so much selfless good and yet still direct a solvent bookshop? It’s almost paradoxical, but my subordinates tell me that the more I’m away reforming the universe, the better things run in the store. Karma at work, I guess. Another thing that inspires me is the use of technology, especially word search software. Using the program NameFind, which I’ve received a free copy of just for mentioning it in as many places as possible, I was able to discover this insightful comment from Lydia about me – "The literary conscious of the book publishing industry is alive and well and living in Ann Arbor. :)" Whether Lydia meant "conscience" or "consciousness," this is the sort of true statement that keeps me going, showing as it does how I am appreciated even by the semi-literate.
But the real secret of my success is very much along the lines of your governmental approach. Because Shamm & Dumm Bookshoppe receives exclusive, proprietary use of the booklists for many of the courses at the University, the students there can only buy their required texts from us at inflated prices, in what is, in fact, a defacto monopoly supported by the state. If bookstores in this area of the world are to prosper I recommend you remain as committed to the totalitarian model as we are at the Shamm & Dumm Bookshoppe. I mention this because I think we are at a complex and pivotal moment in world history and it is crucial that everyone knows exactly what I stand for and what I value.
I’ll close by saying that a small, superior group of bookstores in the U.S. have arranged bookseller to bookseller staff exchanges so that they may share each other’s practices. My staff and colleagues have recommended that such an exchange be instituted with Outer Mongolia as soon as possible, and that I be the first person exchanged, and have even, in the interest of world dialogue, started a fund to buy my plane ticket. I have no doubt that much of value could be gained by you in such an exchange.
I first heard the phrase "it’s a good thing" from my good friend Bjork, and I’m sure you’ll agree that listening to me has indeed been "a good thing" for you, as the nobility and importance of anyone in my position cannot be questioned.
<Pause for tumultuous applause>
Poor Carl, Shamm & Dumm Bookshoppe, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA