A Tough Day for Titles


Josie Leavitt - May 3, 2011

Sunday was a lovely day. The sun was out, it was warm, and customers were very happy to be in the store.  There were a lot of browsers who were content to amble about the shelves. Then there were the customers who knew what they wanted, but had no idea what it actually was.

The first book seeker was a woman, new to the store, who was looking for a book that began with T. I asked for more details. She had the good grace to chortle at the absurdity for this very vague request. She added, “It’s a new show on HBO.” So I zip the HBO website and she didn’t recognize any of the show titles. Then suddenly she said,”It’s got throne in the title.” Okay, now we’re talking. I went immediately to show her the new Rick Riordan cover on books in print. She just wasn’t sure.  I asked if she had a lifeline she could call. Well, two minutes later she comes back with a title: Game of Thrones. Well, alright! We had that book, and she ordered all the rest in the series. She left with our newsletter and a big smile on her face.

The second query was not so easy and it came from an earnest boy of about nine: “Do you have books with wizards’ spells?” I looked at my wizard shelf and we had surprisingly little in stock. I showed him Wizardology, no that wasn’t right. “It a book called Wizard. Why can’t you find it?” I told him there were over 5,000 books with wizard in the title. He said with the sincerity only a child can have, “Can I look at the covers?” Um, not so much. He then explained, in excruciating detail, every aspect of the cover. I failed him, utterly. The fact that there was a wizard with a green robe on the cover did not ring any bells loud enough for me to help him find the book. His dad mentioned that his friend owned the book and I suggested calling, but for reason, this young man didn’t feel like it. So, he left disappointed and I was perplexed.

In between helping him find his spell book and answering the phone, a woman, I believe the wizard’s mother, asked for help. I was happy for what I hoped was an easy distraction. She said she was looking for a new-ish book about a dead mother. It was all could do not to scream right on the sales floor. I asked if she could tell me more about it. “No.” Why is it customers often just assume that their book request will just leap to our mind automatically? There are so many books with dead mothers, I didn’t even know where to begin. I asked my usual leading questions, where did you hear about the book? She didn’t remember. Could she think of anything in the title? No. Author? No.  Why is it customers looking for books they can’t remember so often treat you like you can’t speak English? and they just repeat their query again, but louder?

There was nothing I could do, but pretend to type like I knew what I was looking for, when in actuality I was checking my email. I know when a battle is lost, and I told her to call me when she got more info; I’d love to order the book for her. I’m still waiting for the phone to ring.

27 thoughts on “A Tough Day for Titles

  1. Amber

    As a children’s bookseller, stopped by a customer in the adult section of the bookstore, this:

    Customer: I’m looking for a book, and I’m really sorry but I can’t remember the title, and I’m not sure who the author is.
    Me: Is it The Da Vinci Code?
    Customer: Yes!

    If only they were all so easily solved!

    Reply
  2. Lindsey Carmichael

    It would help if authors would be more aware of customer’s bad memories, too. I once had to help a customer find a cookbook entitled “Cook.” There is absolutely no way to search that without an author’s name! Fortunately, the customer knew it was a local author, and a few minutes’ hard Googling determined it was self-published and on consignment at another location.

    Reply
  3. Erlene

    Cookbook with red cover — That’s Betty Crocker — it’s a classic!
    Better Holmes and Garden is the checkerboard one.
    These are three ring binder cookbooks and have been around forever!

    Reply
  4. Connie

    My current favorite question is from a young girl who asked for the book about “stuff that happened before”. After a few more questions I handed her “Previously” by Allan Ahlberg. She was delighted – her mother was amazed.

    Reply
  5. Kat Kan

    Librarians get similar problem requests. One very memorable one happened to me my first week on the job in the business section of the library; a woman called and said she needed some information from “the big red book.” I proceeded to ask her some questions about what subject the book covered; all I got from her was it was a reference book. We had thousands of them. When I continued to ask her questions, she interrupted me to call me an idiot and incompetent and she swore she would get me fired. I was so upset (it was maybe my third reference call ever!), I went to the section head, who took me to talk with the library director. Everyone assured me it would be okay. I spent the next couple of weeks scouring the reference book shelves, trying to learn all the different titles. And wouldn’t you know, the same woman called two weeks later while I was on duty, I helped her find the information (she couldn’t be bothered to give titles, just identified books by color and size and – grudgingly – topic). I was so tempted to tell her I was the same person she had called “idiot” and “incompetent” a couple of weeks earlier, but decided not to tempt fate.

    Reply
  6. Donna Sugg

    Love these stories! Kids are notorious for this! My best score as a former kids bookseller was the little girl who wanted “the yellow book” that her friend had. It wasn’t Love that Dog. Finally, by finding out what genre she usually read, found it was Castle Corona (which did have a small yellow castle on it). She was thrilled & I was amused 🙂

    Reply
      1. Donna Sugg

        I tried to sell her YOUR book – I love it! Maybe another time, when I am lucky enough to get back to bookseliing 🙂 You are wonderful – so glad to see you on here!

        Reply
        1. Donna Sugg

          I meant both your books! I know they’re both yours, but I have a special place in my heart for Love that Dog and wanted to sell her both…either way, you won!

          Reply
  7. Lolly

    I think my favorite in recent years (ala “Beach Music” & “Dancing on the Beach”) was the customer who insisted she wanted the book “The Lonely Bones”. I asked if she didn’t maybe mean “The Lovely Bones”, but no, that wasn’t it, even when I showed it to her.

    Reply
  8. Stephanie

    These stories are hilarious and painful to hear. It’s a suffering one can only grasp having worked in retail. I worked briefly for a Christian bookseller which had a listening station to hear both popular music and tracks for use in church programs. People would ask, “What’s the song that was popular a few years back, it has Jesus in the title?”

    A guy asked me for a good Christian rock recommendation. I pointed to an end display with the album of the month – on sale even! He said, “those guys are Christians? You can’t even tell these days.” The band on the cover had on clothes that most adults wore, but maybe their gelled spiky hair threw them off. It wasn’t even hard rock, it was pop. I asked him if he could tell by my clothes if I was a Christian. He got embarrassed and then bought the CD!

    Reply
  9. Kitti

    My favorite book request was for a cookbook that had a red cover. “Do you have that one there?” She knew absolutely nothing else. Cookbook, with red cover. I didn’t even work in a bookstore; just had a DOS database and a black screen with green letters!!

    Reply
  10. Kat Brokaw

    What about when they can’t speak English, themselves? I used to work in a bookstore in downtown San Diego, and we got a lot of international customers. One (very cute) gentleman with a heavy French accent desperately wanted a fiction book about fishing, that much we got, but we could not translate the title from what he was saying. The cover was likely blue, there was a movie, and it was about fishing. Three booksellers later, we found out he wanted Jaws. 🙂 Ah, the good ol’ days.

    Reply
  11. Kathy

    As a longtime bookseller I always loved these. They always seem to start with “I’m looking for a book?” Some of my favorites. “That purple book” (Persian Pickle Club). “The Horse With Fur” (The Horse Whisperer). “Freddy the Rabbit Slept Late” (Friday the Rabbi Slept Late). “Final Destination” (Without Reservations). “That series by two guys” (the Left Behind Series). And my alltime favorite “Those one books. You know. They’re yellow?” (Cliffs Notes) And when I told that particular high-schooler I didn’t have the title he wanted in stock and asked if I could order it for him, he says “No thanks, I need it for next period.”

    Reply
  12. Lori

    Oooh! – I have a guess for your patron looking for the book about the dead mother: The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke? – too bad she’s gone now and you can’t ask her.

    Reply
  13. Sarah

    I feel your pain! Kind of like when my students ask me “Do you know any good books I can read?” My usual response is “No” Mind you I have a in class library of over 500 books – most are current YA titles!

    Reply
  14. JEC

    “The first book seeker was a woman, new to the store, who was looking for a book that began with T. I asked for more details. She had the good grace to chortle at the absurdity for this very vague request. She added, “It’s a new show on HBO.” So I zip the HBO website and she didn’t recognize any of the show titles. Then suddenly she said,”It’s got throne in the title.” Okay, now we’re talking. I went immediately to show her the new Rick Riordan cover on books in print. She just wasn’t sure. I asked if she had a lifeline she could call. Well, two minutes later she comes back with a title: Game of Thrones. Well, alright! We had that book, and she ordered all the rest in the series. She left with our newsletter and a big smile on her face.”

    this paragraph is so confusing to me. 1) the show is called Game of Thrones, so why wouldn’t that ring a bell? 2) why does your bookstore not have a huge display of the George RR Martin series and “if you liked this…” related fantasy series highlighted to build upon the excitement surrounding the new series?

    Reply
  15. Karen

    As a former bookseller, my favorite query was the one based on the color of the cover – no author, title or plot points! For example, the “blue” book was Cold Mountain, later replaced the The Lovely Bones.

    Reply
  16. pauline klein

    I remember a patron wanting a book, Dancing on the Beach. She was positive this was the title, we searched and did not find anything. We talked plot and story and finally I decided she wanted Beach Music by Conroy. when I showed her the book, she replied, “yes that is it, Dancing on the Beach. ” At least she went away happy, book in hand.

    Reply
  17. susan

    Call her up and tell her it’s The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke! Perfect for Mother’s Day if you don’t mind unbearable sadness.

    Reply
  18. Christina

    Too funny! I appreciate your frustration as well as the humor of it all. Despite the customers who act as if they think you’re stupid because you don’t know what book they mean when they say “it’s green, has a girl on the cover, and the word ‘the’ in the title,” at some level they must think you are as a god and have 8 million titles/covers stowed away in your vast mind, yeah? Small comfort perhaps, but still.

    I vividly recall my first post-college job, a scant 3 weeks spent working at a bookstore on Long Island, and trying to help a young man who seemed to want works by someone named Weston. As I racked my brains while showing him around the store, he bellowed at me, “Weston! Weston!!” I finally realized with a start that he was saying “Western” with a heavy Long Island accent. Uh-right awreddy. Heah they ah.

    Reply
  19. Rachel

    I am completely with you there! I read and know of so many titles, customers just automatically expect me to know what they’re talking about when they tell me it’s a book about “a girl who likes to read in a cave”. I hate disappointing them when I can’t figure out, but it’s oh so satisfying when I can!

    Reply
  20. Katherine House

    If the woman looking for the dead mother book wanted nonfiction, perhaps it was the recently released The Long Goodbye: A Memoir by Meghan O’Rourke. But perhaps you had suggested that. …

    Reply
  21. kidelo

    I love solving book mysteries! Especially when we have time to utilize all hands on deck to come up with a team-work inspired answer. What’s frustrating is when you spend 10 minutes and burn brain cells only to hear: “I just wanted to show it to somebody,” or “I’m going to order it on my Kindle.”

    Reply

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