Slightly Surreal Serendipity

Elizabeth Bluemle -- March 13th, 2018

‘My Pet Wants a Pet’ by Elise Broach, illus. by Eric Barclay (Henry Holt)

There are times when we wonder if the universe lends a hand in connecting books with just the right readers. Last week, I was looking at some new arrivals when I came upon a charming picture book I’d ordered months ago that just released on March 6. “Oh, this book is adorable!” I said, remembering it from my sales meeting. I flipped through the pages near a customer who was checking out at Laura’s register. I turned the book toward them and continued, “My Pet Wants a Petsuch a great premise!”

The customer whipped her head up from signing her credit card receipt and repeated, “‘My Pet Wants a Pet?!’ My granddaughter said that exact same sentence to me on the phone not two days ago. I have to have that book.” It hadn’t even hit the shelf before selling!

Sure, it was just a coincidence. But it’s a little wild that I happened to pick up that particular book from a stack of at least 20, flip through it (which I almost never have time to do during a busy day), and happen to comment on it out loud. That grandmother is certainly not the only Flying Pig customer who will love this book, but I would lay money on her being the only one whose five-year-old granddaughter said her pet wanted a pet that week.

If this were the only time coincidences happened at the bookstore, I wouldn’t suspect larger forces at work. But serendipity strikes all the time. We’ll be chatting with a customer, responding to, say, his request for adventure nonfiction, and suddenly we’ll veer off to the mystery section and pull out a thriller set in Latvia. And the customer will say, “Hey, great, that’s perfect! We’re going to Latvia in three weeks.” Or we’ll be in the middle of chatting with an aunt seeking Chelsea Handler for her twenty-something niece, and we’ll have an impulse to hand her Moritz Thomsen’s memoir, Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. The aunt will be a little startled. “How did you know my niece is joining the Peace Corps this summer? Tell me about this book!”

A few weeks ago, there were two customers in the store, strangers to me and to each other, and I said something about Rainn Wilson’s memoir, The Bassoon King, which I’d finally gotten around to reading after a year and a half of eyeing it on my shelf at home. Turns out, both customers play the bassoon. An inconsequential coincidence, I admit, but come on!

Then there was the time I met a bookseller at a conference, got to chatting with him about his new apartment in Provincetown, and asked him how he liked it. “My husband and I really enjoy it, but the one who loves it most is our dog.” He pulled out his wallet and showed me a picture. “Oh, Molly!” I said without thinking. The guy blanched. “Her name IS Molly,” he said. “How on earth…” And we both kind of left it there. I blogged about another one of these coincidences, involving my totally useless slightly psychic ability with names at the bookstore a while back.

It’s beyond weird how often this kind of thing happens, especially with customers. Maybe coincidences are all around us, and we only pay attention to them when they’re particularly surprising. Maybe bookstores, because they contain so many worlds within worlds, attract people with worlds of experiences, making coincidences that much more likely. Whatever the reason, I suspect my colleagues across the country have their own tales of bizarre and timely collisions between bookseller, reader, and book. Want to share yours?

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