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.

Bookish bits & pieces

I have a review brewing of the night I spent with Mr Schuester last night, but I’ve not got the energy – so instead, I have a few bookish gems I wanted to share…

Thanks to Twitter, my attention was drawn over the weekend to a bookseller blogger who has composed a series of posts on the topic of ‘weird things customers say in bookshops’. As anyone who’s ever worked in retail (especially in a bookshop) will know, the customer can come out with the most bizarre things at times.

For example:

Customer: Do you have that book – I forget what it’s called; it’s about people with large, hairy feet.
Me: Do you mean hobbits? The Lord of the Rings?
Customer: No…. erm – The Hairy Bikers.

Customer: Did Beatrix Potter ever write a book about dinosaurs?

Customer: I read a book in the eighties. I don’t remember the author, or the title. But it was green, and it made me laugh. Do you know which one I mean?


Once upon a time I led a happy life as a bookseller – I can get terribly nostalgic for it sometimes. I worked with great people, had a 30% discount on stock, plenty of opportunities for freebies and proofs and spent my life surrounded by books – fabulous. Then there were the customers… For a while I wondered if it was the location of the shop – Gloucester is a special place generally – but then I worked in London and, as the examples above illustrate, eccentric customers appear to be drawn to bookshops like staples to a magnet… 

A few years ago I fell into a moment of bookselling reverie in which I recounted some of my favourite moments and shared a truly disgusting story I’d heard from former colleagues – if you’re not eating right this minute, I’d recommend it for a bit of light (but gross) entertainment. 
Jen – the author of the amusing blog – also happens to work in the shop which is officially my favourite second-hand bookshop in the world – Ripping Yarns in Highgate. It’s where much of my Chalet School collection was purchased and was a regular haunt during my formative years in Muswell Hill. Any time I’m in Highgate during shop hours I pop in and browse for as long as I’m able. If ever you’re in the vicinity, I highly recommend it – oh and it’s not just children’s books, it sells pretty much anything and everything.

As an aside, I realised today that I seem to have a reputation for being massively anal about keeping my books in good order. A friend returned a book I’d lent them with the caveat that I was more than welcome to insist they bought me a new copy, implying that it wouldn’t be up to my standards. It was fine – clearly read – but the spine wasn’t cracked (ok, I may be a tad anal about that) and none of the pages had been folded over. I’ve bought worse looking books in Oxfam. Am I really thought of as being that much of a Monica when it comes to books??