Whether it’s a crazy summer Saturday packed with Shelburne Museum-goers, or a slow holiday-week Saturday where half the town has gone skiing or left the state in search of fun, Saturdays at the bookstore are always fun and full of surprises. I thought I’d give readers a few highlights from last weekend.
1) Most Enthusiastic Reader Award
Flying Pig bookseller Sandy First has been telling me for a while about an adorable three-year-old girl who has been coming to the store for the Mercy Watson series one at a time (do click that link, if you get a chance; Mercy has her own website, and it is adorable!). “I wish you could see her,” Sandy said. “I’ve never seen a child so happy to get a book.” Apparently, she jumps up and down and practically levitates with joy when handed the next volume of the buttered-toast-loving pig’s latest adventures. When I came to work at 11, Sandy said, “That little girl you passed on her way out is the Mercy Watson fan I’ve been telling you about.” I zipped back outside and watched this blonde-ringleted little tyke “reading” the book as she walked, chattering, clearly narrating the story as she walked on the deck between her parents, who carefully guarded her on either side, tall swans around their happy duckling.
2) Most Confusing Customer Call
One of our longtime customers is a fantastic, sharp woman who always orders interesting books. Her father was in publishing, in fact, and she has excellent taste. Rarely, therefore, does a discussion with her go as awry as the one we had this Saturday morning, when she sent her (adult) son in to pick up The Company They Kept: Writers on Unforgettable Friendships, Volume 1. Our customer called us when her son arrived home. “This isn’t the right book,” she said. “I’m looking for The Company We Keep. I’ve already got The Company They Kept.” I remembered having been able to get volume 2 of this series from the distributor, but needing to order volume 1 directly from the New York Review of Books. I was sure I had the title correct. As I scurried around online checking our records and the NYRB website, our phone call became a veritable “Who’s on First” sketch. It didn’t help that the NYRB site doesn’t do a great job of linking the two books; not only are the book jackets dissimilar in style and tone, but the web pages for each title don’t refer to or link to each other. And there is a red herring of a book called The Company We Keep from another publisher altogether, which has nothing to do with these two. It turned out that we had in fact sent home the right book, but it was a pretty funny 15 minutes. (Wonderful books, though. I recommend them!)
3) Blast from the Past
Three tall teenagers came to the store, looking for a photographic book on Vermont to send home with an exchange student. We helped them find a lovely one, and when they came to the register, we asked what name we should ring it up under so that they would get their book club credit. The tallest of the kids, who must have been about 6’2″, gave his parents’ names. I gasped. “You’re baby Oliver?!” I said, making him blush to the tips of his ears. He is now 15, but used to come to the bookstore all the time as a teeny tot when our store was in its old location, within walking distance from his house. We talked for a bit, and what was so extra-wonderful about seeing this grown-up version of the baby/toddler/little boy we had known those years ago was not only that he was a smiling, confident young man, but that he seemed absolutely delighted to be recognized. He could have hunched into himself, mortified beyond reckoning, at being called baby Oliver — I mean, who could have blamed him?! — but instead, he warmed to the pleasure of being known and remembered.
4) Teachers Stocking Up
School break is this week, and often teachers use some of their found time to come in and fill gaps in their classroom collections. We love this; they plant themselves in a section and raid the shelves. Sometimes they want help and suggestions; other times, they come in with a list and get right to it. We have a lot of very slightly psychic moments at The Flying Pig: thinking of a customer we haven’t seen in a few years, only to have them pop in the next day; guessing a kid’s name we’ve never met; suddenly deciding to restock a particular author we’ve been out of for a while, only to get a request for their books. This Saturday was Leo Lionni day. I hadn’t sold a Lionni title in a few months (I know; sacrilege!), but restocked everything this week, and on Saturday, a teacher marched up to the counter asking for — yep — Leo Lionni. She bought the entire collection. Kismet!
5) Busy Budding Readers, New Friends
Two 16-month-old cartoon toddlers, strangers to one another, rushing busily through the store, one followed by grandpa, the other by mom, both toddlers following each other around. There were the usual toddler events, pulling multiple balls out of a ball display and knocking everything else off the shelf, exuberantly spinning card racks, (supervised) climbing on our soft cubes in the picture book section.
6) The Book Aunt
A woman came up to the counter with a stack of picture books. I so love to see a stack of books at the counter, I must say. I said, “You found great books. Are you a teacher?” (She had chosen some authors who aren’t mainstream for the general public but are well-known and beloved in school circles.) “Nope,” she said, “I’m just the ‘book aunt.’ ” “I’m one of those,” I said. “Isn’t it the best?” We agreed that it was, and I expressed admiration for her excellent choices. “You’re all set?” I asked. She nodded, then said, “Unless you have some must-have books for four-year-old boys.” I got that gleam in my eye and showed her Chris Barton’s Shark vs. Train, Kevin Sherry’s I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean, William Steig’s Pete’s a Pizza, and Mini Grey’s Traction Man Meets Turbo Dog. That stack grew by four books, and she left having earned a canvas tote bag.
7) Long-Distance Regulars
Another growing child pleased to be recognized was Lauren, the granddaughter of a customer who moved out of state but has recently returned. That’s great news for us, because our customer’s family is wonderful and we have missed seeing them! One of her sons came in with his daughter (Lauren), who shyly came up to the counter, smiled, and was so happy we knew who she was. Now in sixth grade, she’s still an avid reader, and we had a blast going through books, talking about which ones she’d read and loved, and finding new ones for her to take back home after the weekend. (Princess Academy, Ice, and Chalice.)
Then came another family, who visit once or twice a year. Mom, Dad, a son and a daughter — all of them science fanatics who also love books. Our conversation ranged from comparing chemistry flash cards to sharing favorite science-y websites (I pointed them toward the video of Theodore Gray’s making of The Elements for the iPad, and told them about the Elements Vault: Treasures of the Periodic Table with Removable Archival Documents and Real Element Samples (which we were out of stock on, but which led Sandy to show them
Solar System: A Visual Exploration of All the Planets, Moons and Other Heavenly Bodies That Orbit Our Sun (also published by Black Dog & Leventhal), which they happily bought, along with Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, Emmy & the Incredible Shrinking Rat, Cool Science stuff and The True Meaning of Smekday. One of the kids said, “We were going to the museum [the wonderful ECHO Center in Burlington] but the bookstore turned out to be so much more fun today!” And the best moment may have been when the mom said, “You changed our family’s lives several years ago,” telling me about recommending audiobooks the whole family would love, which changed long car trips for them forever.
It was a good Saturday, fairly quiet (lots of locals fled town for school break) but very fulfilling. Plenty of time for chatting with every customer (and leaving alone the folks who like to browse in peace, of course). Our lowest dollar sale was $3.71; our highest, $153.11. People bought as little as one item and as many as 20. But what lingers long after the day’s reconciliation are those conversations; those are the sparks, the fuel, the grist for our mills that keep us opening Saturday after Saturday, all year long.