Matthew Sullivan's Dream Job

Matthew Sullivan's short stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore (out now from Scribner) is his debut mystery novel. He teaches writing, literature and film at Big Bend Community College in the high desert of Washington State.

I became an English major in college for one simple reason: the stack of Vonnegut paperbacks in my dorm room made me happier than just about anything. When I graduated and began looking for a job, the only ad that appealed to me said Bookseller Wanted.

I called the number and soon I was wearing a maroon uniform shirt and following a tiny boss lady through a busy terminal at the San Francisco Airport. The pay was dismal and it was a 90-minute bus ride from my apartment, yet I had a bounce in my step at the prospect of working with books all day. But when we reached the bookstore, we kept walking. Soon we were standing in front of a kiosk in the shape of a street trolley, with a cash register where the driver would sit. There was a seniority system, it turned out, and booksellers were at the top. At the bottom? Me: the new guy selling cigarettes and shot glasses from the trolley's helm.


A few years later, after moving home to Colorado, I spotted another alluring ad in the paper: Bookseller wanted. Apply in Person.

I felt that same excitement I had before and immediately hopped in my car. I knew Denver well, so I was puzzled when I ended up in a neighborhood with factories and gas stations--not retail.

I pulled into a lot behind a truck stop, certain that I'd written down the wrong address, or had somehow misread the word bookkeeper as bookseller.

Then I saw a different word, in red letters, on a cinderblock building: ADULT.


I was distraught when I got home, so I did something I should've done many years before: I opened the novel on my nightstand, pulled out the bookmark, and called the number printed there. The logo on the bookmark was a pair of open doors with a world of books inside.

"Are you hiring?"

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