We take many, many special orders a week. It’s a multi-step process that involves the customer asking for a particular book, us ordering the book and then calling the customer when the book arrives in the store. However, some customers have asked us to stop calling their homes when the the book comes in. The reason for this is as funny as it is a sad: they don’t want their spouse to know they’ve ordered a book. No, these aren’t books for a special occasion, these are just books they want to read. But clearly this speaks to a rift in the home about how many books are being purchased. It’s almost as if the bookstore has become the affair.
We are the secret being kept from the household. It never occurred to me that the bookstore and someone’s buying would be a source of tension. But I’ve seen it time and time again in various ways. Customers asking for us to not call the home phone, but their cell phone instead. While this makes more sense for people who are out of the home all day, it clearly limits who can pick up the books. Not every customer has a cell phone (hard to believe, I know, but it’s true) so we are left to hope the customer remembers they’ve ordered a book and to come to get in a timely way. And conversely, the customer often calls days ahead of when the book has actually come in. These two scenarios create tension for both parties, but I suspect that becomes the nature of something illicit: someone is always waiting.
One of the other components to the bookstore as a secret are the receipts and the shopping bags. Many customers don’t want their receipts because they’re evidence of money being spent at the store. They don’t explain the new books that are in the house, because they’re being hidden. Many women, and I don’t mean to be sexist here, but I’ve never had a male customer tell me he’s hiding his book habit from his wife, parcel out their books so no one suspects just how many have been purchased. Some folks hide books in their car, others have a secret spot in a closet where they keep their new books.
We give out free Flying Pig tote bags whenever someone spends $75 or more in one visit. I cannot tell you how many customers have said, “Oh God, not another tote. My husband will kill me.” They walk out of the store precariously balancing a stack of books to their car. It’s funny and a little disturbing that the bookstore can be a point of contention in a household. I totally understand that money is a factor and many customers have budgetary constraints to consider, and some would argue that the library is a lovely place. But to lovers of books, there is something wonderful, life-affirming, and delicious about a brand-new book. It saddens me that some folks need to keep their books a secret, but we’re happy to help keep harmony in our customers’ homes.