I Have an Odd Request

Josie Leavitt -- October 12th, 2012

Every bookseller fields this sort of question every day. Yesterday, I had this statement five times. Yes, five times. Often these requests come when I’m not ready for them, like first thing in the morning when I have finished neither my coffee nor my breakfast. (Why I don’t just eat at home is something I’ve never figured out.) This got me to thinking about all the things we’ve been asked.

Below are some of the requests we’ve gotten over the years:

– A gentleman called early one morning and asked if we sold pornography. I told him, without judgment, that we didn’t. He then asked if I knew where he could buy porn. I said I didn’t know and he asked if I had a phone book. At this point, I politely suggested he find his own phone book.

– Sometimes, in small towns, the local bookstore is where things get dropped off. While it’s nothing to hold an envelope or two, once someone asked if we could hold onto her kittens until Christmas morning. We were assured the kittens would be fine for the three days to their big reveal under the tree as long we kept them in their own room away from our dogs, fed them, cleaned a tiny litter box and played with them. Really? Wow.

– Someone came in and said,”I’m looking for that book that was on that show and is about a girl.” Once we deciphered the sentence we realized the customer was talking about a book she heard on the radio six months ago, and it was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

– Can you mail this book, along with this little package, to someone in prison? Um, not so much.

What are some of the crazy requests you’ve gotten?

28 thoughts on “I Have an Odd Request

  1. Christie

    Customer: I need a nice little picture book for my 5-yr-old granddaughter who is going into the hospital to get her tonsils out.
    Me: My mother gave me Curious George Goes to the Hospital when I got my tonsils out when I was 5. I loved it!
    Customer: But my granddaughter is really SMART.


  2. Davin Kimble

    In most prisons you cannot directly mail a book to an inmate due to security risks. They require the book be mailed directly from the seller. Hope that clears that question up.

  3. Rebecca

    Years ago, I was in a gigantic used book store in Cleveland. I thought I’d look for an old book I had read long before but didn’t own and couldn’t remember the name or author. I went upstairs to the science fiction area, where there were so many books and so many shelves it was difficult just to walk through it. I found an employee and asked him for “that book about a big ship in the sky where everything was all in threes.” The man went straight to a shelf, removed the first two layers of books and pulled out “Rendezvous with Rama” by Arthur C. Clark. He was right.

  4. PKJ

    As a bookseller, I was once asked to settle an argument for a young couple. The question? “You know that story about the girl who sells her hair to buy her boyfriend a present and then he sells his watch to buy her a present? Is it from the Bible or Shakespeare?”

  5. Jessie

    Two of my favorites:

    -At the counter: “I’ll have a small vanilla scoop in a dish with chocolate sauce, and…” [me interrupting] “I’m sorry, sir, we don’t have ice cream. This is a bookstore.”

    -“Do you have any books that I haven’t read yet?” [This customer turned out to be Mia Farrow!]

  6. Robert Goodman

    Quite a few years ago, I listened to a mousy-voiced customer ask a clerk: “Do you have the book ‘Change Your Voice, Change Your Life?'”

  7. booklover

    “Where is the non-fiction section?”

    “What is the Dewey Decimal System number for books on the Civil War?” As that is an interest of mine, I told her. “Then why can’t I find any Civil War books?” Still not sure what one had to do with the other.

    “Do you have Computers for Dumbasses?”

    And my personal favorite….”Do you sell lawn furniture?”

  8. Jane

    I had a small bookstore, and we had a “Sexy Books” section – Taschen’s sexy books and that kind of thing. A guy brought one of those books to the counter and said, “Could I just borrow this for about 20 minutes? – I’ll leave you my watch.” No, and you can’t use the store bathroom, either, mate.

    Another good one was, Christmas Eve, “I need something for my mother-in-law.” What does she like? “I don’t know. Something that looks expensive.” Okay, I can help you with that…

  9. Rachel

    I find the one about mailing books to prison not odd at all. I worked at Barnes and Noble for years and we would do this for a small charge all the time. Prisons prefer it that way actually b/c they know that it’s not going to include contraband.

  10. Elise

    “Who wrote the Bible?”
    “The Bibles are located downstairs near the cafe. I can take you there if you like.”
    “No, I meant, who’s the author?”
    “You want an author name?”
    “King James.”

  11. Kathy

    As a school librarian, I get some wonderful requests from children. One of my favorites:
    “Do you have a Jackananny book?” Hmmm. After some time, I realized he wanted the Magic Tree House series, whose main characters are, you guessed it, “Jack and Annie”!

  12. Shelver506

    One customer wanted to know if we had The Anarchist’s Cookbook, which wasn’t a big deal until he REPEATEDLY assured me that he was “just curious.” And then he warned me that the Feds kept track of these sort of requests, so if they came in asking about him, he was “just John Q.Public, just John Q. Public.”

    1. CGS

      We used to get a lot of requests for “The Anarchist’s Cookbook” when I worked for Books-A-Million, but no one ever refused to give us personal information when ordering it. I did, however, have a customer decide to not order “Secrets of Methamphetamine Manufacture” by Steve Preisler, AKA “Uncle Fester”, when I told him I would need his name and phone number.

  13. Els

    I work in a library, and we get very similar things. Since I work in the children’s section, I often have to crack some very vigorously coded sentences to figure out exactly what my young charges are looking for.

    My favorite so far is:
    Boy: Do you have that geographical thing I was looking at yesterday?
    Me: Geographical thing? What sort of geographical thing?
    Boy: I was looking at it yesterday.
    Me: So, it was a book about geography?
    Boy: No.
    Me: Was it a map?
    Boy: No. I had it yesterday.

    After about ten minutes of this, I determined that what he wanted was a dictionary. Really.

  14. Spellbound

    Years ago, a customer came in and asked me if there is a difference between cake flour and regular flour. She was following a recipe to bake a birthday cake. I’m not sure why she thought I should know that, but, being a somewhat avid baker, I was pleased to be able to answer her question. (Yes, there is a difference!)

  15. Josep M.

    In the 90s, all over Spain, people would walk into ELT bookshops and simply ask for “the red book” or “the blue book”. Invariably, all bookshop assistants would hand over Ray Murphy’s Essential Grammar in Use or English Grammar in Use.

  16. PageTurners

    Jen Campbell has written a fantastic book on a similar topic called “Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops” – it has some corkers. One of the ‘customers’ asks if there’s anything by Jayne Eyre. Another asks for that book that a thousand monkeys with a thousand typewriters produced!

  17. R Gray

    I worked at Borders in the 90’s. We had a lots fun.

    “I want that book–it’s GREEN. Do you have that?” (we pointed them to a picture book of Ireland that was on the remainder table)

    “There was a book on that table over there last week. I don’t know what it’s about or who wrote it but it looked interesting. Do you have it?” (I did know what she was talking about)

    A man came in to ask for an Aramaic to English dictionary because he had a letter from Jesus at home that he wanted to translate. I looked at him funny so he added “I don’t think he wrote to ME personally, it’s just a letter I found”. I said we don’t carry that but I can see if we can order it.

    A couple came in and seemed to be arguing with one another when I heard the man say “I’m just going to ask her.” He came over and said “Do you know what *The Protocols of the Elders of Zion* is about?” I said “Yes, I know what that’s about and we do not carry that book.” He walked away and said “See, she agrees with me.”

  18. Del Howison

    Phone call

    Caller – “I’m looking for….”
    “I’m sorry. I don’t carry that.”
    “What kind of books do you carry?”
    “We are a store that specializes in horror.”
    “So how would you classify your books?”
    “Well, I’m not looking for that.”

  19. EWRichmond

    Years ago, in another store, we kept a list of odd requests. Among them: health aides, the rubber tips you put on the end of canes, fishing line, leashes, shoelaces. Once we had a woman come in and exclaim, “Wow, this could almost be a bookstore.” Huh? My favorite, long ago, request was for a book that someone had recommended. “I think it’s by somebody kind of famous and it’s about electricity.” There are miracles…I came up with Arthur Hailey’s Overload.

  20. Stephanie

    Just the other day: “A book with a pink cover that everyone was reading last year, probably non-fiction.” Turned out to be The Help.

  21. Michele

    “I’m looking for that book by Dr. Phil Framoprah.” *me trying to look up the last name “Framoprah” before realizing she meant FROM OPRAH, which obviously I was working and hadn’t seen….

    And of course there’s the story of the woman looking for that book about “baseball and bread” for her son’s reading list… Hours later, my colleagues realized she meant “The Catcher in the Rye”…

  22. Sara

    I love this post! I find it amusing and flattering that people consider the bookstore a place for general information: directions, restaurant recommendations, local events.

    I’ve also had many people over the years request to ‘borrow’ a book. No. The library is down the street.

    As for book requests, I’m still delighted with myself for finding “a book on manners that I read a review on when I was at the doctor’s office”.

    1. patty brown

      perhaps the Laduree Sale book? (fyi: missing accents over the first ‘e’ in laduree and ‘e’ in sale)…the cover is lavender.

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