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An Alphabetical Life: Living It Up in the World of Books Paperback – October 18, 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

We never know what may happen when we pick up a book," writes Werris is her tragicomic memoir of life in the book trade, "... turning the page might actually change the course of our existence." As an unemployed college student, Werris began selling books in 1970 at the Pickwick Bookstore in Los Angeles and never stopped. Her evolutionary career began in bookstores, moved to publishers (like Rolling Stone's imprint, Straight Arrow), continued on to repping and culminated in escorting famous authors on tour. Daughter of Snag Werris, a longtime comedy writer for the likes of Milton Berle and Jackie Gleason, Werris has humor in her genes and a raconteur's flair for a good story, and her book bubbles with insider tales of authors and celebrities (like her one-night stand with Richard Brautigan and a magical dinner with Eric Idle and George Harrison). Sadness peppers Werris's story, however: failed relationships, the death of a beloved friend from kidney failure, a complicated relationship with her parents and a brutal rape whose perpetrator was never captured, despite Werris's own valiant efforts. The book details a richly textured world of small presses and now vanishing independent bookstores, and is a bittersweet tribute to the indefatigability of bibliophiles like Werris herself. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Werris grew up in Los Angeles while her often-absent comedy-writer father, Snag Werris, sustained a 20-year association with Jackie Gleason. During the summer of 1970, Wendy, age 19, strolled into Pickwick Bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard, a renowned venue that attracted street people as well as celebrities, intending to buy a Charles Bukowski collection, and walked out not only with the book but also with the job that would set her life's course. Werris now tells the story of her peripatetic and gutsy book-selling career in a matter-of-fact memoir that eulogizes expert and eccentric independent booksellers of yesteryear and chronicles the rise of the discount chains. Werris also adds a chapter to the story of women in the workforce as she remembers her demanding years on the road as a publisher's rep when few women traveled sales circuits solo. Werris earns respect and sympathy as she shares her unusual and enlightening perspective on the publishing industry by portraying mentors and colleagues, relating brushes with celebrities, disclosing personal suffering, and sharing her tireless love for books. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 292 pages
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf (October 18, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 078671817X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786718177
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,790,516 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is an interesting account of a woman's life as a book rep. It gives the reader a look into a world that most of us know little to nothing about. Those people who love books and bookstores will enjoy reading this. As a booklover myself, I have often thought(dreamily) about how wonderful a 'book rep' job might be. This gives you (me) a little reality check on that.

I wanted to read this because of the sub-title: "Living it up in the world of books." I love to read books about books, and books about people who love books. This was more of a memoir about a life and career that happened to involve the selling of books. I enjoyed the story and read it up over two days. There are a lot of interesting things that happened in this woman's life as a book rep., and she shares the happy and sad times. I thought that the ending was fitting, in a 'full circle' sort of way. She had some brushes with some very well known people -which was fun to read about, and she has become well known and respected in her field of work.

There's a section in the middle with pictures. I thought that was nice to get a look at not only the author but some of the people that she talks about in the book. Each chapter begins with a short quote. I loved the one for the first chapter: "Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must live" by Charles Bukowski

The book reads well, and I like the author's style. I very much enjoyed this book and highly recommend it!
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Format: Paperback
This is a book about books, the business of books, the way books come to be, the way they look and feel in your hands, the way they get from the author to the publisher to the shelf to the reader,the way they affect people and people's lives. It is written by a genuine book person and is also part of the story of her life and growth, how her "becoming" has been influenced by her lifelong love and respect for books and her profession as a publisher's sales rep.

Not everyone has the ability to make you laugh through words on a page, but Wendy Werris does. Her tone is conversational and she takes you right in, unabashedly describing her nutty home life, her accidental, you might even say fatal, entry into the book world, the people she has encountered along the way, some of them quite famous, others just plain eccentric.

It is a book about books and so, too, a book about people. Well wrought, accessible and well worth a read.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a book sales professional of a younger generation, I bought this book for the glimpses it promised into "the good old days" of bookselling. I was pleasantly surprised to find a rich and layered narrative written in a strong voice that instantly drew me in. While books and bookselling remain central to Werris' story, her honest retelling of the ups and downs of her life reminded me that life is more than just a climb up the corporate ladder. Kudos to the author for her warm and generous memoir.
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Format: Paperback
I was attracted to this title after spending many years as a book lover to the nth degree as well as being a writer and a former publisher's rep. It seemed like a Reader/Writer match made in heaven, especially given the geography Werris and I share.

Werris was a trailblazer, a professional female publisher's rep before this was common. She learned her stuff in the trenches while participating in all the expected revelrie of the 60's and beyond.

The characters that accompanied her life journey were as colorful as the books they peddled, expertly and lovingly. The book brought laughter and tears, bittersweet moments as we saw the book industry change as we turned page after page after page.

My only criticism was the boxy chronology. It was almost written as separate books - here is Wendy Book Rep, here is Wendy in the rest of her life. The parts that engaged me the most were her parents' deaths, her survival after a rape, little bits and pieces about her spirituality and then looping back around to the reunion of most of the original Pickwick staffers.

I would have preferred to have more personal life stuff interwoven throughout, but that is simply my taste.

Great quotes include:

"We never know what may happen when we pick up a book to read. The turning of a page might actually change the course of our existence. There is something very miraculous about this. Truth strikes at the very heart of books and the readers who turn themselves over with great trust to finding the essence of them selves."

"Life has revealed itself in a language known only to me, comprised of my own private alphabet. You, too, have such a language.
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Format: Paperback
What sort of book could be more appealing to readers of a book review website than one that chronicles a life spent in and around the book business? Wendy Werris's captivating memoir of more than 30 years in varied aspects of that business is sure to please book lovers everywhere.

Werris began her career at the age of 20 in 1970 as a bookseller at the Pickwick Bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard. The last chapter recounts the 2004 reunion of her former co-workers that attests eloquently to the power of books to unite people. From there, she moved through a series of bookstore jobs before landing a marketing position with Straight Arrow Books, the bookselling division of Rolling Stone magazine. That job ended disastrously, but it eventually led to her first job as a publisher's representative, a position she would hold in various forms for almost 30 years, representing 70 publishers both well-known and obscure.

Werris doesn't shrink from describing the dramatic changes she has witnessed in the bookselling business, most prominently the demise of independent bookstores and the rise of the chains. The numbers are stark: two-thirds of the bookstores she served in Southern California and Arizona between 1985 and 2005 no longer exist. Still, she's rueful but not sentimental in assessing that changing landscape. "The business will never again be what it once was," she writes. "It's not possible to find the cultivated sensibility of the past in most publishers and bookstores today, because economic realities no longer allow for it."

The subtitle of this memoir is a bit misleading: Readers who think "living it up" refers to wild parties with famous authors are in for a surprise.
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