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A Game For Dennis?


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From the Post:

If you get this newsletter, you probably dream about owning a little bookstore. Imagine curling up with a good novel, recommending your favorite titles to fellow readers and exchanging witty text messages with Ann Patchett. 

Booksellers constantly hear that fantasy from friends and customers. “Something inside me dies a little every time,” says Oliver Darkshire, who works at Sotheran’s, an antiquarian bookshop in London.

This week, Darkshire finally had enough. Convinced he must reveal “the ugly truth,” he tweeted out Bookstore, a role-playing game he created so that everyone could experience the soul-crushing anxiety of being a bookseller with rent due in 10 days (rules). Players roll the dice and encounter a Customer, a Crisis or a Peculiarity. From there, they might confront a Shoplifter, a Wild Animal, a Broken Printer, a Feeling of Dread or any number of other challenges. 

It’s a wry game, spiked with Darkshire’s morbid wit. We only spoke on the phone, but I’m picturing him as Dylan Moran in “Black Books.”

“People have this idea of a bookstore as somewhere they can sit around and read books all day,” Darkshire says. “What people fail to realize is that as soon as it becomes a product, you start having to deal with customers, which are obviously the worst.” 

“That’s why you get the tradition of antiquarian booksellers never being open during their opening hours,” he says. “If you start opening them reliably during opening hours, people start coming regularly. One has to avoid that at all cost.”

He’s kidding/not kidding. Sotheran’s has managed to dodge oblivion since 1761. One of their many famous customers was Henry Clay Folger, who built the Shakespeare Library here in Washington. 

Darkshire declines to describe any of his current customers, except to say that he recently received a note with nothing attached to it that said only: “Sotheran’s, I don’t like it.” He keeps that in a little frame. “I take it out on dark days to cheer myself up.” 

Despite his grim Bookstore game and his gallows humor, I know he loves the work, and I envy him.

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