“My son is in 8th grade, and he needs to read that one book. CAUTIOUS AFTER DARK? I think that’s it. But you can check your computer. He’s in Mr. Teeter’s Gifted and Talented English class. Do you have it in paperback?”
“Hmmmmm…. I’m not sure what the classroom reading assignments are in every school right now, but maybe I can help. Would you like to text your son quickly to check, and I’ll look up that title…. ”
As I returned to the register to type, my staffer quietly walked over to the young adult section, slid a copy of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon from the shelf and placed it next to me on the counter. (“It’s OK,” she murmured. “We had another one from that class yesterday, and they wanted the “Dog Man at Night.” It took us a minute to figure out that 8th graders were not assigned Dav Pilkey graphics.”)\
Later that day, I scribbled that mistaken title on a post-it note by the register, and pulled out a clipboard we keep in the drawer under the front counter to add this latest query. Perhaps you have one of these lists, too, in your store? It’s where we amuse our fellow staffers with the most garbled of book title requests, and play our own Bookseller Jeopardy trying to guess the actual book being requested without looking at the answer. So, under “Picture Books for $100,” Alex, I’ll take:
Lou Lou Alligator (who is Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile?)
Taco Bell Dinos (what is Dragons Love Tacos?)
Bubbles the Elephant and His Family (what is the Babar series?)
Fernando and the Flowers (who is Ferdinand the Bull?)
and for you Francophiles, the Daily Double:
Mundelein Girl (What is Ludwig Bemelmans Madeline, or any female student at St. Mary of the Lake.)
In the trickier category of Middle Grade fiction, we have more parents sent in by their kids for the next volume in a currently consumed series, and the communication is not always crystal clear. So in the last few months, we’ve spun the Wheel of Fortune to solve some cryptically named books; Vanna, can we buy a vowel for:
99 Stories in a Tree with a Fish (the Treehouse series by Andy Griffiths, including the 26, 34, 52 and many other story versions, but no 99; and Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, which is a frequently recommended title in our shop, and so gets a lot of social media mention, sometimes creates some confusion.)
Spies Again Skiing In Space. Bless Stuart Gibbs and his cover artist, all the books in that very funny series just look pretty much the same. We often bundle all the paperbacks and put a gift receipt in the bag.
The incredibly popular Chris Colfer Land of Stories gets a lot of requests from the carpool crowd, so for an extra spin of the wheel, see if you can determine which volume to send home with this customer:
“We need the next one in that series that my daughter loves.. I think it’s The Return of the Kingdom’s Collide. Or it’s purple. One of those.”
Or the ever popular:
“Mystery of the Benedictines.” (That’s Mysterious Benedict Society, Pat, and we’ll try to solve the puzzle at this point, and put away our rosaries.)
As we move into the bungled titles of Young Adult, I frankly have much more sympathy for those parents and grandparents who are shopping for young readers without the benefit of a recent PW issue or an Indie’s Next list in hand, for most young adult fantasy titles these days it seems are built with eight basic words: Born, Queen, Bone, Blood, Stone, Fury, King, and Storm. If the genre is YA realistic fiction, substitute “sick lit” (“I think the girl has cancer, or dies, or the boy does, I don’t know, but it’s sad, or maybe there’s a shooting”) or a white cover, for suddenly, these are very common again to the chagrin of both the packing crews at warehouses and the frontline receiving staff at bookshops. These requests, however, made the Family Feud final round:
“Gorillas in the Mist. No, Turkeys in the Straw. I don’t know…. there’s an animal. Turtles All the Way Down? YES!! That’s it. Do you have his other books? Looking for Baked Alaska? Paper Dolls?”
Sometimes, customers use movie references to help clarity their requests.
“Do you have The Hermit? You know, where they go looking for the ring, and Morgan Freeman plays him in the movie?” Yes, that’s Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and I think you should just get The Lord of the Rings today, too…. because it might be out of print before you stop back in. (This conversation actually happened and I feel absolutely no guilt about sending them home with an expensive boxed set.)
Everyone’s favorite garbled title in YA, of course, is Ruta Sepetys’ Between Shades of Grey, due to its similarity to the E.L. James novel 50 Shades of Grey, which while never sold in my store, continues to befuddle customers seeking a historical fiction title for their bright young reader. “Shades of Grey! Absolutely not. What’s next? Fear of Flight? (I think you might mean Fear of Flying, and we don’t have that instore, either, but we’re happy to bring it down from the warehouse for you.”
As the holiday season bears down upon us, we look forward to helping many customers find their requested gift books, even if they don’t have the title on the tip of their tongues. Either way, as long as their bag is full of wrapped titles as they leave our stores, The Price Is Right.