Borders and Barnes & Noble:

Learning the Difference

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas shopping, for me, is always fun. Okay, not always...we all know sometimes it's a chore to find the right gift for someone. So I mean "fun" both literally and sarcastically. It can also be funny, and I mean that both literally and sarcastically, too. Sometimes the strangest coincidental circumstances will occur that make the shopping experience not only humorous, but so ridiculous you just gotta laugh.

My friend Vicki Pepper likes to read. She reads quite a bit, and so do I. We often recommend books to each other. So for Christmas, I figured I get her a couple of books that rank among the best I've ever read. (She's already about 3 or 4 books into my favorites list. She's a good friend like that: she’ll actually trust me and read things I tell her I enjoyed.) I've got a 10 percent off membership card to Barnes & Noble, so I figure that's where I'll shop. I know which books I'll get her, and I'll order them online just after Thanksgiving and they’ll arrive in plenty of time so this will be simple, right? HA! Such hubris to think so!

I decided to get her Night by Elie Weisel, a powerful book about his personal experiences in a concentration camp. Though he had vowed to never write about his Holocaust experiences, he changed his mind after meeting Francois Mauriac (the French Catholic novelist and Nobel laureate)...Weisel then wrote And the World Remained Silent, a 900-page volume originally written in Yiddish. It was later 'compressed' through a French re-translation to 127 pages and called La Nuit (Night). That's the version I got for Vicki....but not in French, in English. Duh. I'd read this book during a Holocaust class in college, and it's just amazing. (I also read Viktor Frankl's introspective and quotable Man's Search For Meaning, which remains among my favorite books...and though Vicki likes deep books, I figure two books about surviving Holocaust experiences would be a strange Christmas present!) [Edited to note: this was a month or more before Oprah made Night her book club selection, people. Oprah reads my blog, yo! Okay, no she doesn't, but still: I recommended it before she did. So there, Oprah.]

So for the other book I decided to go with The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux. Here's where the train jumps the tracks. When the books arrive The Mosquito Coast is...wrong. It seems I hadn't noticed the version I ordered online was some sort of 35-page young reader’s student version with illustrations. Um...that won't I send it back, and think, "No big deal, I'll just stop by Barnes and Noble this week and pick up a copy." Perhaps I should have ordered her John Steinbeck, because ya know what he said about the best laid plans of mice and men.

Our buddy Buzz gathered the whole Altville staff together Thursday night for dinner. At the end of the dinner, Vicki gave me a Christmas card, which I thought was strange because I was going to see her both on Friday night and Saturday night for our After MidNite show and I figured we’d exchange gifts then. Oh well. I decided to open it later that evening.

After dinner, I went to Barnes and Noble to get The Mosquito Coast for Vicki, because I knew I wouldn't have time on Friday and I still had to wrap it. I go there, grab a few other books for some other folks, and take my purchases to the counter. I hand the nice lady my Barnes & Noble membership card, and she says, "Oh that's the other place." I realize, DUH, I'm in Borders, not B&N. Oops. But what a nice lady, she says, "Are you sure you still want to buy the books?" I say sure, the 10 percent off is no big deal, and I need to get them tonight. I sign the slip and I'm outta there, chuckling at my foolish self.

About an hour later, I'm opening the card Vicki gave me...and as I tear the envelope, I'm honestly thinking, "Vicki likes to give gift cards...I bet there's a Borders gift card in funny would that be!" And yep, there it is.

Not only did I go to the wrong store, I could have bought Vicki's gift with Vicki's gift! And that cracks me up.

So Christmas shopping can be funny.

1st Moral: Don't forget the reason you're buying gifts for people: because you, to some degree, love them (well I hope). Obligation sucks. If the process is stressful and makes you crazy, try to remember there is joy in the concept of giving. The effort you put into finding a gift is worth it, even if only to your satisfaction. True, sometimes people don't always show their appreciation for what you've gone through to GET them their gift, but remember that it's not the effort that counts; if you measure your effort against their appreciation, you'll probably be disappointed, which runs counter to the feeling you want to experience...the joy of giving.

Don’t get me wrong, it's not like this book-search was some huge stressful endeavor, not at all! Had I not told her the story, I know she would have liked getting the books and that would have been enough for me. So when I told Vicki the story, it wasn't to impress upon her how much trouble I went was because I knew she would crack up at my own crossed wires. There’s joy in the stress, people. With a twist of perspective for how quirky life can be, it's in there.

2nd Moral: Borders and Barnes & Noble?...yeah, they're two different stores.

Merry Christmas!

Halleluiah, He is born!