Since 2005 I've been selling books - mostly used - on Amazon.com under the banner of Oscar's Things. People often ask me about this little side business, which is much more a labor of love than a business avenue paved with gold.
Oscars Things started back in April of 2005 when my beloved husband of almost 25 years died suddenly from a cardiac arrest.
Although his given name was Michael Thornton Thayer, a highly respected scholar in his inner circles, he was known as Oscar to his loved ones.
After his sudden death I was faced with literally many hundreds of boxes of books packed floor to ceiling, wall to wall, in a series of storage lockers.
Michael was a true genius with an interest in a dizzying array of subjects ranging from math, philosophy, religion, music and art to many languages (Russian, German, French, Croatian, Serbian, Spanish, Japanese). He also was former chess and bridge champion along with a love of Go. The topics he studied are endless.
During the course of our time together he enjoyed successful careers in more than one field including math, teaching, real estate, law, metaphysics and ultimately software.
When I first met Michael he was working to finish his degree at Logan College of Chiropractic in St. Louis. After he graduated he opened up his first practice at Atrium Health Services, the first alternative health clinic in St. Louis, which we co-founded along with our friend, Dr. Joseph Unger, D.C.
Michael also studied acupuncture, homeopathy and craniopathy. He offered those types of treatments at Atrium as well.
After a few years Michael decided to return to one of his first loves, which was math and software development.
Michael had graduated from Harvard where he had majored in math and had informally studied computer science. He left his chiropractic practice in St. Louis. We packed up and we moved to Dallas, Texas.
Fortunately he had been offered a great opportunity to work as a software support engineer for Computer Associates, International, based at the time in New York.
He loved his time at CA, as he called it, and stayed there four years before joining Price Waterhouse, now Price Waterhouse Coopers, in their data security and management consulting practices.
After more than three few years with Price Waterhouse, he eventually graduated to independent consulting and ultimately the co-founding of T&S Software in 1995 which specialized in telephony, speech and telecommunications related services.
Along the many roads of his professional life he took a variety of detours. I used to tease him and say it was because he was a double Virgo (Virgo Sun/Virgo Ascendant). Right after graduating from Harvard he joined the Army for four years and was sent to their language school in Monterrey California.
He spent three years in Germany where he had lots of time to practice his German and French. Michael also studied Russian so that he could play competitive chess with some of that country's top ranking players.
He also spent a lot of time traveling the globe and studied many languages to understand the countries he was exploring.
As a result of his very full and unique life, Michael aka Oscar, collected some of the most unusual books I've ever discovered. His private collection of books could fill an entire bookstore. Maybe even two.
Michael was always reading.
He read first thing in the morning when he woke up, during the day when he had a few minutes and it was the last thing he did every night before he went to bed.
He loved to brew a pot of tea, nestling into a big comfy chair for a good read. Long airplane flights were ideal for his love of reading.
When he had his heart attack, he had just finished reading a book about the biological evolution of a fly. It was in bed next to him as the paramedics arrived to administer CPR. I have decided never to sell that book and keep it by my bed now.
After his death, my friends encouraged me to start going through all of Michael's things and start selling them on Amazon.com, one of his favorite places to shop for books and music.
I opened Oscar's Things on Amazon.com and slowly started going through the huge mountains of boxes.
Needless to say, it was heart wrenching. I would spend almost as much time crying after listing each book, as I did right after his sudden passing.
I managed to successfully list several books and then somehow an email was lost somehow from a book buyer.
Although I managed to get the book out immediately once I realized the communication had been lost, the buyer was not understanding about the problems which can occur with email.
She left the worst possible review. The buyer left a 1 out of a possible 5, even though she quickly received the book she had purchased.
In addition, I offered to provide a full refund of her costs, to try and make amends for the delay in shipping. She never responded to my offer and instead blasted me in a review. I was again heartbroken.
In the very best of circumstance emails get lost and communications are misdirected.
The buyer received her book, although just 2 days late, it was exactly as described and she was offered a full refund as my apology for a lost email. I was shocked that people can be so awful in their reviews when the booksellers make every effort to make them 100% satisfied and happy.
It was so upsetting to receive such a negative review over what I felt was an innocent mistake I decided to stop selling any more of Oscar's books for awhile.
I continued to put a few of my own books and those of friends into Oscars Things, but stopped adding any of Oscar's personal tomes.
Over the past two years, I made a difficult decision to move from my current location of more than 15 years. As I surveyed all the things I would have to either move or sell, I found myself staring at literally hundreds of boxes with Oscars Things.
After more than eight years of mourning his loss, I felt better about resuming the process of selling his beloved book collection. I renewed my commitment to provide the very best service possible to anyone who bought one of Oscar's beloved books.
I felt a very special responsibility to both Oscar and the buyer of his beloved tomes.
I resumed adding all of his books to the Oscars Things little storefront on Amazon.com.
I'll confess it's been a very difficult experience. Each book brings up memories. Michael had a habit of putting all types of handwritten notes to himself inside his books. As I manually open every box and go through every book by hand to check it's condition and look for blemishes or marks, the little notes flutter from the pages. I stop and study each one.
Sometimes the notes make me laugh, sometimes I cry. Yet I continue onward. Recently I found a photo of him smiling and waving. It was a wonderful gem.
Noticing my labor of love with Oscars Things, the team at HairBoutique.com offered to help me process the book orders in a more efficient manner. I was concerned about this option since each book I sell and ship is part of that labor of love in honoring Oscar's special memory.
Part of me feels that every person buying one of his books is meant to have a tiny piece of his special energy. He truly was a remarkable and wonderful man.
Because I sincerely want to make sure every buyer is 100% happy I accepted the offer to have the team help me.
Unfortunately innocent mistakes still happen. Recently a Hairboutique team member mixed up two books. Although instant expedited full refunds were provided upon hearing from the buyers, one of the buyers still left a negative review. The second buyer never responded, even though we attempted to arrange a book swap and provided a full expedited refund.
Again, I was devastated. Although the buyer who wrote a negative review instantly received all of their money back including shipping, they complained about being inconvenienced by a book they did not order.
Even though we told them to keep the extra book as our gift, they still complained. I went ahead and ordered the first buyer the exact same book from another Amazon.com bookseller (since we had only one copy) and had it shipped in an expedited way to make sure they also received the book they ordered.
They received an instant refund, a heartfelt apology, the book they ordered at no cost to them and the offer of keeping the mistaken book as a gift.
I felt truly horrible since I care deeply about everyone who buys from me. I did sincerely try to arrange to swap out the books with the second buyer, who never responded to my communications.
Yes, a few tears were shed over that review from the unhappy buyer since they still received the original book and all of their money back.
One unsettling experience I've had while selling Oscar's Things is the fact that more often than not, when I attempt to communicate with the buyers to make sure they're happy or handle a problem or question, they never respond.
Amazon has a special dashboard for sending and receiving messages between buyers and sellers. Even when you attempt to contact a buyer to arrange for a swap, which I attempted to do with the recent book mix-up, the buyers never reply.
Amazon cautions booksellers to not push communications in any way. If you don't receive a reply, you're supposed to drop it. Which I do, but sometimes I feel bad that I was not able to make a customer 100% happy in every way possible.
Ultimately when buyers do respond by leaving positive reviews based on a happy experience buying from Oscar's Things, it makes me feel like it's all worth it.
Lately we've had some amazing customers at Oscar's Things who go out of their way to leave a positive review listing all the ways we go out of our way to make buying from us a wonderful experience. Indeed, no book is entered without a very long detailed description of the condition of the book.
I want everyone who buys from Oscar's Things to know exactly what they will be receiving.
Yes, I could just load all the boxes into a truck and donate them or sell them to a used book store, but somehow I feel that Oscar would prefer me to sell his books the way I'm doing it now.I also feel grateful that more than eight years after his death, a little bit of Michael still lives on in my daily life through Oscars Things. I'm also thankful so many book buyers around the world are sharing in a little piece of Michael's love of books.