Strangest Question, Ever

Josie Leavitt - June 22, 2015

All bookstore staffers get asked a lot of questions every day. They range from simple to complicated. Often we are asked if we carry certain books. These are usually straightforward questions about where a book might be in the store. Occasionally, we get asked questions that just stop us in our tracks, and leave us scratching our heads to wonder what’s happening at a customer’s house. I know everyone has a hobby or two, and there is the expectation that bookstores should reflect all of them. I have learned after 19 years of owning a bookstore that there are some hobbies we just don’t even think about. Sure, I have knitting books, cookbooks, books on how to build treehouses, gardening, even stamp collecting, but I found out last week I have a gap in the collection.
I was working with Laura when a man and his teenaged daughter came up to the counter. The father looked at me and asked quite seriously, “Do you have any books on how to clean a skull?”category3_family_227
My first thought was no. My second thought was why does this family need to clean a skull? I couldn’t look at Laura because I knew I’d start laughing, more from nervousness than anything else. I looked on our database for any books on taxidermy and found we didn’t have any. Our nonfiction section definitely reflects what our customers have expressed interest in and in nearly 20 years not one customer has asked about this particular art. I asked the man, “What kind of skull?” My relief was palpable when he said it was actually an old turtle shell and not a human skull. I looked through a few of the “how to live outdoors” books we have and none of them had a section on how to clean skulls.
I did some poking on my books in print database and found no books just on cleaning skulls. I offered to look up, and print out, directions from the internet but he clearly seemed to want the book, now. I thought the better of saying, “What’s the rush?” He and his daughter left the store disappointed. I guess when you’ve thought that you can spend the whole day cleaning a skull nothing else will do. I directed them to the local library and wished them good luck,
So, what’s the strangest question you’ve been asked at your bookstore or library?

16 thoughts on “Strangest Question, Ever

  1. James S.

    In my previous librarian position, we used to have a lady that would call at least twice a week wanting to know the value of whatever piece of junk she had picked up out of someone’s trash or gotten at a yard sale. She obviously watched way too much Antiques Roadshow because she was firmly convinced that it was some priceless antique. No amount of legitimately looking through Kovel’s or internet searches would persuade her otherwise.
    After months of this, we finally agreed on a blanket answer that she would need to seek the advise of a qualified antiques appraiser because these types of questions were beyond our ability to accurately answer.

  2. Monica

    HA HA HA HA The other day, a lady called looking for candy stores in the area. Turns out, she had an affair with a candy store employee that resulted in a child who now wants to know about her father. I wish I was making this up. There were waaaay too many details.

  3. Susan Carr

    I was taken aback when a patron called and asked me to recite the poem “A Boob In Autumn”. I thought, here we go, it’s another one of those calls from one of those guys. But then, when I actually asked him some more information, it was, duh, the poem Abu Ben Adhem by Leigh Hunt. Oops!

  4. Jenn

    It’s a real toss-up between the man who wanted a book about the nation-wide epidemic of trees growing in the middle of roads (???) and the woman who would accept nothing less than a photograph of Pocahontas for a multicultural musical she was staging in Atlanta. Oh, working in a public library….how many stories I got out of you.

  5. Kenny Brechner

    A woman strode up to the counter and asked us for two pounds of parrot feed. At the time there was a pet store a few doors down which explains her errand but not why she didn’t notice she was in a bookstore.

  6. Aileen Stewart

    Interesting. I wonder why he couldn’t use info from the internet? Unless it was a school project and they needed a book to reference. And by the way, I think you went above and beyond service for you to offer to print material off for him :0)

  7. Lydia

    Oh gosh…and now I’m blanking on the plethora of questions I have been asked over the years. Someone asked for a movie the other day with “cherry” in the title, and felt the need to point out it was “not porn”.
    I once had a man come up to the desk of our library and ask for a book. He then wanted me to sell it to him if I found it. I ended up helping him buy it from Amazon.
    You may also want to check out my blog post here ( about a man so crazy for coffee, he took extra desperate measures…

  8. Joanne Fritz

    I always love reading about the odd questions other booksellers are asked. I, too, had many over the years (I’m now retired), mostly on the order of “I don’t know what it’s called or who wrote it but it has a blue cover”. Perhaps my funniest customer story was when a grandmother brought her grandkids in looking for Hansel and Gretel. I found the book and handed it to her. She leafed through it with increasing frustration and finally said, “No, no, this isn’t it. I’m not finding the best part.” And then she proceeded to sing “Evening Prayer” from the Englebert Humperdinck opera version.

  9. Bob

    This past Saturday, I was asked by a very perceptive young woman (probably about ten years of age)
    why practically every book in the store had “New York Times Bestseller” on the cover.

  10. Deb

    A young woman once came up to me at my library’s reference desk and asked me to find a book. She didn’t have a description, title or author, but told me it had a pink cover. To be more helpful, she told me it had been on display at Barnes & Noble about a month earlier on a table just inside the door.


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