Mrs. Malaprop’s Book Shoppe

Cynthia Compton - September 11, 2019

“Do you have the New Testament?” asked the customer on our first phone call of the day.
“We do have several children’s bibles, and some collections of stories from the life of Jesus…. is this a gift for a specific occasion?”
“No, no…. the Netflix series. The one that’s a book and all the girls look like nuns….”
“Ah, yes, we have Margaret Atwood’s new book. May I hold a copy or two for you?”
It wasn’t the first misunderstanding about a book title in our store this week, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. In this case, I just wasn’t thinking — how I could blank on THE TITLE of the week is probably due to an accidental decaf substitution at the local coffee shop, not an unclear request. Customers frequently ask for books that they distinctly remember, but can’t exactly name. Often, they also can’t name the author — although for some reason, the color of the cover sticks with them, as does a once-upon-a-time location in a display in our store. Booksellers often joke about the oft-heard “I don’t know the title, but it was BLUE…” but the real challenge as a literary shopkeeper is to keep a straight face when a customer butchers a title or author’s name, as well as to adroitly translate the malapropism, instantly producing the requested title.

Here’s our list of favorite recent book requests:
“Do you have the Wrinkled books?” The Time quintet by Madeleine L’Engle? Yes, they are here. Do  you know which ones you need? (customer looks skeptically at the stack in my hand.) “She’s just a baby. Her mom said the books go in the washing machine.” Oh, perhaps the Indestructibles books from Workman. My mistake. They are a little wrinkly, aren’t they?
“My grandson is very advanced. He’s reading Harry Potter. He needs (consults printed email) THE FIRE GOBBLER.” Yes, The Goblet of Fire. Here you are. Would you like to pick up The Order of the Phoenix while you’re here?  “No, but my other grandson wants something about underwear.” Perhaps one of the Captain Underpants titles? “Are those the ones with the button you push and it flushes? He saw one of those at daycare and that’s what he wants.”
“Where is your Calico section? I want to get some award winning books for my niece.” Here’s a list of Caldecott winners…. we don’t shelve them together, but I can pull a half dozen quickly for you to browse through.
“I want the book that was on your display over here the last time I was in. Hats on Monkeys.” Hmmmm…. could it have been one of the Curious George titles? We had those out for a while next to the ice cream cart…. “No, it was RIGHT HERE” (pointing to a train table that hasn’t ever moved location in the front of our store) “And it’s a classic.” One of my staff quietly walked over to the paperback bin and pulled a copy of Caps for Sale, and all was well.
“My son likes those big head books.” So do we. The Who Was spinner is right over here.
“Are there any new Little Red Truck books?” Well, the Little Blue Truck series has a new sticker book, and the Halloween one is nice for fall. Here’s the entire collection—do you have all of these? “No, the truck is red. And there’s a farm, I think.” Perhaps Otis the Tractor? Or Red Truck, Yellow Bus? Or… I KNOW! Old MacDonald Had a Truck. “No, there’s like a worm that drives it.” Ahhh. Richard Scarry’s BusyTown. And here’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. “Yes, that’s right.” (Customer pulls out phone, takes screenshot of cover.) “I’ll look for that online the next time I need a present for my nephew.”
“Do you have the Dot book?” Sure. Pete Reynolds’s Dot is wonderful, isn’t it? Are you celebrating Dot Day? “No, this isn’t it. It’s got lots of dots in it. And it’s interactive.” Oh, I’m sorry. You meant Press Here, by Hervé Tullet. Such a fun book to read with a child.  No, it pops. The dots, I mean. Ahhh…. perhaps the Poke-a-Dot books over here. Sorry about that.  “Yeah, you guys should get a computer, or something.”
In this week of big book releases and lots of new customers visiting our stores, may all your requests be easy to fill, all your boxes arrive on time and undamaged, and please, please share all of the bookselling-in-translation moments with the rest of us. We could use a laugh or two.

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About Cynthia Compton

Cynthia is the owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Indiana, a 2600 sq. ft. childrens store founded in 2003. She serves on the board of the American Booksellers Association, is a past president of the Great Lakes Bookseller Association, and is a former member of the American Specialty Toy Retail Association board of directors. 4 Kids was honored with the Pannell Award in 2013 and has received numerous "best of" awards in the Indianapolis area. The opinions expressed in her posts are her own, and sometimes those of her english bulldogs.

2 thoughts on “Mrs. Malaprop’s Book Shoppe

  1. Caroline Reich

    When I worked in a bookstore, I did get the classic, “It’s a dessert cookbook, I don’t remember the title but the cover was purple.” But my favorite ‘solved’ question was the woman who wanted “Solomon Dastra” for her grandson. Turned out she meant Brian Jacques’ Salamandastron!

    1. Cynthia Compton Post author

      Caroline, I would LOVE to have been in your shop to hear the gentle questions that led you to solving the Brian Jacques puzzle! Early on in my bookselling career, a grandfather wanted “those fighting mice” books for his grandson…. took me a minute to lead him to Redwall.


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