This week’s ShelfTalker theme, kicked off yesterday with Elizabeth’s excellent post, is continued here with some odd, exasperating, and/or funny things I’ve heard at work in my bookstore, with some help from a couple of colleagues and a few visual aids.
Under the category of fairly exasperating bookstore questions, most on Elizabeth’s list are all too familiar. In addition to the aforementioned “Have you read all these books?” I also get the occasional “Do you read any of these books?” and the not-as-rare-as-you’d-think “Did you write all these books?”
“You know kids don’t read anymore, don’t you,” “Can you make a living doing this,” and similarly uninformed and rather rude questions which, in my experience, are usually asked by elderly men… as they’re checking out at the cash register. Go figure.
Karen Opper, owner of That Bookstore in Wethersfield, Ct., said she was asked the other day, “Is this the kind of bookstore I can come in and read but not buy anything?”
Karen’s response: “No, all those bookstores went out of business.”
Of course, we all get visitors like this, but it’s rather bracing to have someone just come right out and ask that, isn’t it? Although I do quite often get people thanking me for having this wonderful place where they can sit and read with their kids, leaving me struggling to find a way to graciously say, “You’re welcome, but please start buying the books or it won’t be here much longer.”
Of course, questions for bookstore staff are not limited to questions about books or about our business. Not by a long shot. And sometimes that’s just fine with us.
Jennifer Laughran, a bookseller at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, N.Y., shared this recent phone exchange on Twitter:
“Oblong Books, this is Jennifer, can I help you?”
“Yes, this might be weird, but we are considering a move to Rhinebeck — I’m wondering, how harsh are the winters there?”
Jennifer says she loves this kind of question and “will 100% regale you with information AND find the perfect Dutchess County house for you if you give me the *slightest* provocation.”
One of the funniest random requests I ever got happened shortly after my bookstore opened. A customer came up to the counter and asked if there is any difference between cake flour and regular flour. She was planning to bake a birthday cake and said that she figured someone who works in a bookstore would probably be a veritable font of information and that, since it’s a children’s store, I might know something about birthday cakes. Luckily for her, I do happen to be an amateur baker and cake enthusiast and I was able to explain the difference to her. I’d say, of all the assumptions customers might make about you and questions they might ask you, this was pretty sweet.