Further bookselling reveries

Ever since Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops took off, I seem to have been reminiscing more than usual about my bookselling days – days that ended over 7 years ago. Plus, thanks to a comment I left on one of the Weird Things… posts, more people have landed on my original bookselling reverie that contains possibly one of the most disturbing bookselling stories you’ll ever hear (which, fortunately, didn’t actually happen to me).

I’ve just discovered a blog that links to that post as well as a few others of a similar nature, which reminded me of a story I retold on Sunday, while waxing lyrical about the glory of bookselling and how great – and under appreciated – booksellers can be. This is the bottom line people – most booksellers are excellent. They know a lot about their stock, the subjects it covers, what’s good, what’s not… They’re underpaid and, even worse, if you work for a big chain (i.e. Waterstones) your expertise is increasingly regarded as irrelevant – you don’t get a say in what stock gets ordered and are more or less a till monkey. A small rant, but I urge you to appreciate your local bookseller – they will appreciate you for it.

Anyway, back to random customer stories…

On Sunday, I was at a gathering that included several Gloucestrians and I got talking with one of them about my old bookshop and how much it’s changed since it got taken over by the big W. I shared a couple of Weird Things… gems and got the response “Oh, I bet there was never anything that weird in Gloucester!”. Oh really? I beg to differ – see previous post and below:

One of the jobs I did on a semi-regular basis was dealing with the daily delivery of customer orders. Really, this was a perfect job for me as not only did it require a high level of efficiency (ticking books of a list, lining them up & putting the right piece of paper in the right book), the alphabetisation of the customer orders bookcase (be still my beating heart), but also the chasing up of orders with the relevant distributors. I became so well known for my determined chasing that someone at our main distributors once said to a colleague “Ottakar’s in Gloucester? That’s where that really mouthy girl works, isn’t it?”. I was proud. The only thing I didn’t like about it was that it involved ringing up total strangers – something which to this day I loathe.

I digress. Anyway, one day an older gentleman arrived wanting to collect his order. I took his name and went over to the shelves to locate the books. As I took them down, I realised they were two volumes of an erotica series. Slightly surprised, I took them over and, as with all orders, checked that they were the right books. The gentleman replied, rather loudly that they were NOT the books he’d ordered and I began to feel rather horrified that we’d accidentally ordered erotica for some poor old man. However, when he finished his sentence with “I’ve already read those! I wanted these two…” and pointed to the list of books inside the front cover, I felt a lot less guilty and instead aimed to get away from him as quickly as possible.

Fairly icky, no? How about the day someone asked if we had the Karma Sutra and I asked if they were after a particular version, running through the variety we had in stock. [Did they want one illustrated with drawings or photos? Pocket sized or full sized?] Then I looked up and realised my Dad was stood in the queue behind them – I’m sure he was very proud of my bookselling knowledge at that moment. Or, the day a woman came to the counter with a teenage girl in tow, handed me a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting and turned to her daughter saying “now you’ll see what you’ve got yourself into”

Bookshops are truly special places. Treasure them and pray that they are never entirely replaced by one massive, anonymous Amazon.


  1. Ah, Ottakers in Gloucester, I went there a few times. Oddly enough when I picked an old book off my shelf just the other day I found a postcard from that Ottakers inside it.

  2. One with the random mural that was behind the counter? I loved those & was really pleased that Waterstones didn’t paint over them!

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