Being Psychic Comes in Handy

Josie Leavitt - June 28, 2016

Every day in bookstores across the country, customers come in with perplexing questions. They are seeking books they’ve heard about somewhere but can’t quite remember where. They are hazy on title and author but they are almost certain the cover of the book they’re seeking is blue. The covers are always blue. (But that’s another blog post.) There are easy ways to know what customer might be talking about by knowing what books have had a big media push, what books are coming out that might be getting talked about, and what books other customers have been buzzing about. This is all good, in theory, to help customers find the books they’re seeking. But sometimes we are given the barest of bones to go on.
Last week I had two very different requests for books with very little information and something wonderful happened. I just knew what books they were talking about. This happens to me sometimes. I can just laser in on what the customer might need and without even thinking about it the right book comes to mind.
“I’m looking a series my friend recommended,” a customer said. That’s all she said. She knew nothing else about the book or the series. She did know her friend’s name, which wasn’t all that helpful. I had a flash of an idea and went over and picked up the book Outlander and handed it to her, she just looked quizzically at me and asked, “How did you know?” I had no idea how I knew. Ironically, the book is very blue, but it’s older and I’m still scratching my head at this one. The customer was amazed, other customers who had overheard this whole transaction were also amazed, and I felt like had scored the winning goal in a championship game. I love it when serendipity happens and I can just hand the customer what they’re looking for with a proud flourish.
The book roll continued the following day. A customer approached the counter and said, “I heard about this author on a morning show. A beach read. She just got over breast cancer.” I hadn’t heard of a well-known author battling cancer,  and there are many writers who write beach reads, so I was about to start looking about the TV morning shows, but I stopped and said, “Elin Hilderbrand.”  The customer was shocked. I went to the shelf and handed her the book. Again, there was a moment of thinking: how did I just know that? I honestly have no idea. But, after 20 years of bookselling there is the ability to just sort of know what folks are looking for. And I’m grateful for these moments because they make the head-scratching searches where I never actually find the right book, a little easier to bear.

8 thoughts on “Being Psychic Comes in Handy

  1. Kathy

    Had a guy in the other day who wanted a book with a man’s name in the title with “a D or a G in” the name. Without even stopping to think I said “Oh, you mean a Man Called Ove.” My customer was really impressed.

  2. Frances M.

    Librarians also have to field questions like that. I seem to remember an ancient cartoon from Lynn Johnston’s “For Better or Worse” comic strip in which a patron asks for a book using a similarly insufficient description.

  3. Hannah

    It’s an odd thing isn’t? Happens to me fairly regularly too. I guess the subconscious figures out more about the customer than conscious brain realizes. I’m always astounded by the number of successful recommendations I make for books I haven’t read and actually know very little about….

  4. yamster

    Yes, why are the book covers for these requests always blue? Other popular requests for cover images: “It has a woman wearing white” or “It has water” (oh, maybe that explains the blue?).


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