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December 8, 2023

Book Elf-ing

We are kicking off this year’s Holiday Author Blog series with New York Times bestselling author Laurie Frankel, whose fifth novel, FAMILY FAMILY, releases on January 23rd. While promoting her most recent movie, a film about adoption, India Allwood does something she knows you should never, ever do --- she tells a journalist the truth. When Laurie was in high school, she worked in a mall bookstore unboxing and shelving books. Although the job lasted only a few weeks, it exposed her to a variety of books and gave her the itch to write one of her own. Fortunately for her many fans, that itch has never gone away.


One December when I was in high school, I got a seasonal job at the bookstore in the mall (back when there were bookstores in malls…and back when there were malls). I wish I could say I dressed as an elf and led children around a snowy literature-themed North Pole where parents took their kids’ pictures with their favorite books of the year. (Honestly, how great an idea is that?) But no, my job was to unbox and shelve books so that the non-seasonal employees could speed the long lines for the register and the gift-wrapping station and help all the extra customers shopping for the holidays.

I was (and remain) a good book shelver, but it was not a mentally taxing job. So while my hands were putting books on shelves, my brain was considering covers and titles, topics and blurbs, hardcover copy and deckled edges. It was a short job --- only five weeks or so --- but two important things happened.

One was I developed this strange, impossible-to-precisely-locate itch that could only be soothed by writing a book myself. It took a further two decades until I managed my first. My fifth, FAMILY FAMILY, comes out next month. Even that only soothes the itch while my fingers are actually on the keyboard. As soon as they’re not, the itch comes back.

The second important thing was I got an employee discount. This meant I spent considerably more than I made at that job. Maybe hiring budding authors and book lovers was a money-making scheme on the store’s part, both in the short term (everyone on my gift list received books that year, and every year since) and the long (product generation). If so, it was almost as good an idea as annual snowy photographs of kids with their favorite reads of the year. I am available to be a book elf.