The Bookworm: Surviving Christmas, wrappings and retail

“Green Christmas”

by Jennifer Basye Sander and Peter Sander, with Anne Basye

Picture this: it’s trash day after Christmas and there are four garbage bags at your curb, all filled with what were once rolls and rolls of colorful, decorated paper.

Several cardboard boxes sit next to the bags. Peek inside them and you’d see tattered cellophane, plastic wrappers and crumbly foam packaging.

Leaning against everything, shedding its needles, hiding an errant ornament and wisps of wrinkled tinsel, is a sad-looking pine.

Wasteful? You bet. According to authors Jennifer Basye Sander and Peter Sander (with Anne Basye), our trash output rises by 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. In the new book, “Green Christmas,” they’ll give you ideas you can use to cut the waste and have an eco-friendly holiday season.

Cut back at Christmas? Bah, humbug, right? Not so, say the authors. Even if you back off buying, wrapping and decorating just a little bit, it adds up. Change doesn’t mean loss of traditions; it means new traditions for your family.

Take, for instance, the feast. Leftovers are great — if they’re eaten. The authors say that, “If every American threw away just one uneaten tablespoon of mashed potatoes (each year), that would add 16 million pounds of waste to our landfills.” Their advice: buy locally-grown produce, don’t over-prepare food and donate extra to the local food pantry or shelter.

You may think an artificial Christmas tree is “greener,” but the authors prove that’s not true. Instead, consider a live tree you can plant in your yard when it gets warmer or skip a tree altogether and decorate with leftover branches from a tree lot. If your family insists on a “real” tree, recycle it after the holidays. And, if you’re tired of the same old ornaments, consider an ornament swap with like-minded friends.

So, how do you tame the “gimmes” and go green with gifts? Be creative, the authors say. Give the gift of time. Make presents or give gift certificates to a local resale store where there are all sorts of gently used treasures. Donate something meaningful in the recipient’s name. Be clever with your wrapping or give something that doesn’t have to be wrapped at all.

Reading “Green Christmas” is a little like eating holiday fruitcake: some parts are delicious and in good taste. Other parts will make you wrinkle your nose.

Yes, the authors have some obviously valid and creative ideas, but they also contradict themselves (Shop at locally-owned stores, they say. Later, they trumpet online shopping). Some of the ideas are downright odd; Take the kids on a fun-filled, magical Christmas trip to the town dump so they can see how much stuff is wasted. There’s an abundance of ideas on greening Christmas, but few tips for getting the family onboard, an omission that may make implementing the hints difficult, at best.

If you’re adamant about a completely, totally green lifestyle and can risk being called a Grinch, then pick up “Green Christmas.” If you love the holidays just as they are, don’t waste your money.

“The Customer is Always Wrong: The Retail Chronicles”

edited by Jeff Martin

You knew it was a bad time of year to go to that store, but you went in anyhow, and you wished you hadn’t.

The lines were long and filled with grumps and kids, both way past nap time. You couldn’t find anything because the place was a mess. The sound system was broken and the same Christmas song was playing over and over and over. ‘til you thought you’d scream. You couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Too bad you were the person behind the cash register.

In the new book “The Customer Is Always Wrong: The Retail Chronicles,” edited by Jeff Martin, you’ll see that you’re not alone. You’ll also see that there is humor in them there aisles, too.

Want great discounts on merchandise? Don’t mind long (long!) hours on your feet? Do you have the negotiation skills of a statesman, the strength of a linebacker and the patience of a kindergarten teacher? Are you ready for work with little to no job security? Then step up and sign on for a retail position.

Editor Jeff Martin says that the writers of this book are “retail survivors.” They’re the ones who helped you find that elusive gift. They’re the people you yelled at because they didn’t have the color sweater you wanted. The writers represent all the people who ever took your money at a cash register. They might even represent you.

Unless you work in a kids’ store, small shoppers can sometimes be a challenge for retail workers. Mystery author Elaine Viets writes about doing research for a novel while working in a bookstore, and how a comment from a 12-year-old boy gave her hope for the world of reading.

Stores are magnets for unique customers and local characters. Kevin Smokler in “Another Day at the Video Store,” writes about some of them who visited him at work.

In “The Bad Call,” Clay Allen remembers an early-morning group of customers that made him cry. The word “project” will scare you, too, when you read “Other Things in Mind,” by James Wagner.

Years from now, when you look back on your time spent working retail, think of “We Weren’t Really Rock Stars,” by Richard Cox. Maybe you’ll remember to be nice to the new guy behind the cash register.

Had your fill of crabby shoppers, annoying music and crowded parking lots? No matter which side of the checkout counter you’ve been on recently, this book is the perfect antidote to it all.

In “The Customer is Always Wrong,” editor Jeff Martin assembled 21 stories from the trenches, including great experiences and those best forgotten. For retail workers past and present, there’s a familiar hilarity in some of them and sobering realism in others. Having spent time in retail (at a bookstore, of course!), I loved this book.

Pick up a copy of “The Customer is Always Wrong,” and then go ahead and throw away the receipt. This is a book you’re going to want to keep on your shelf for a long time.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

© 2008 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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