25 November 2011

Bookstore Rants, or Lady, You Crazy!

I've been sitting on this blogpost for a few days, wanting to calm down a bit before sitting down to skewer a particular parent I interacted with at the store earlier this week.  Our store is in a pretty smartsy-artsy-fartsy (you like that term?  I just made it up) area, where the population density of people who hold PhDs is higher than average.  Probably much higher than average but I'm not about to spend time researching figures or anything like that.  But anyway, because of where our store is located we're pretty used to parents who come in to buy books for their little darlings who learned to read in utero and are basically culturally sophisticated geniuses who excel in sports, languages, sciences and arts, all in equal measure, and do we have any books that might be good enough for them?

I'm sure you know the kind of parents I mean.  Sure, these parents are tiresome and apparently blind to the fact that their children are frequently nasty little shits in desperate need of a good spanking meaningful time out.  But these parents are completely grounded in reality compared with a mother I was dealing with the other day.

Mommy Dearest: (to me) I'm buying the last book in the Eragon series for my high school daughter because she just loves it, but I need suggestions for my other brilliant daughter. She's nine but she reads on a high school level, so I need a book that will challenge her but also be age appropriate.  (to daughter): Why don't you start looking at the books?

Lowly Bookseller: I understand completely.  Let's take a look over h...

MD (interrupting me): We don't have a television, you understand.  My children have all been readers from a very early age, which is why I've got one daughter at [insert Seven Sisters college here] and another applying to [insert Ivy League college here].  My youngest, though.  She just gets it in her head sometimes that she wants to read something but I won't have her filling her head with crap.  Not like what my students read.  She's better than that.

LB: Uh-huh.  Why don't we look at these books right he...

MD (interrupting again): And don't even get me started on graphic novels.  They're such trash--I can't believe she keeps trying to read those Wimpy Kid books at school. I'd like to give a piece of my mind to the creators of these so-called graphic novels...

LB (hah--interrupting her!): Well, actually, there are lots of great graphic novels, and one that sells well to both children and adults is this retelling of Homer's The Odyssey.  Since your daughter enjoyed the Percy Jackson books, she might enjoy learning more about the classics.

MD (looking down her nose): I don't think so.

LB (to the daughter directly): Sweetie, what others books have you liked besides the Percy Jackson ones?

Downtrodden daughter:  Harry Potter, Emily Windsnap, books about animals, books with f...

MD (interrupting AGAIN): She definitely didn't like those Series of Unfortunate Events books

DD: I thought they were pretty good

MD (to DD): No you definitely didn't like them. And they're too young for you anyway.  (To me):  What else do you recommend?

LB: Well, if you like fantasy stories with strong girl characters, I'd suggest maybe Madeleine L'Engle for a classic or maybe The Emerald Atlas, which is more fantasy-adventure and more modern.  For animal lovers, A Ring of Endless Light is a magical read with all of the dolphins in it, but A Wrinkle in Time is also great--it was a Newbery award winner that pairs well with a recent winner, When You Reach Me.  They both feature smart girls dealing with confusing times in their lives, plus they learn about time travel.

DD: The one with the dolphins sounds pretty good...

MD (to daughter): No, you won't like that one, I don't think.  Too old-fashioned.

DD (to mom): But I like dolphins.

MD (to daughter): No, I said you wouldn't like it.  Keep looking for something else. (To me): What about that Atlas book?  What's it about?

LB: It's a wonderful fantasy adventure about three siblings who are orphaned but come to discover some amazing things in their new ho...

MD (she's the interruptingest!): Orphans?  No, that sounds too much like those other books, those Unfortunate ones.

LB (losing patience): Actually, they're nothing at all alike.  Yes, they are both about siblings who are orphaned, but beyond that they're much more fantastical, with homages to C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, Susan Cooper, and even Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

MD: You mean they're derivative?  I don't want her to read anything derivative.

LB (frustration showing through the cracks): No, actually, I don't mean derivative.  I mean that it uses similar tropes from classical fantasy series in a way that pays homage, but still creates a wonderful story for a young reader to get lost in.  If you don't want books that are derivative and poorly written, you should reconsider that Paolini book for your older daughter.

MD (slightly taken aback): Well.  I didn't mean to offend you.  I just have high expectations for my daughter.  (to daughter): Did you find anything?

DD: This one looks good.  I read the part on the inside cover and then I started reading the first chapter and I really like it.

MD (to daughter): Were there at least six words you didn't know in the chapter?

LB (to mother): Well, if she's reading on a high school level, there's a good chance that she'll know all of the words in this book.  But it's from a very reputable and literary publisher of children's bo...

MD (interrupting again): No, I don't think she'll like this.  She only thinks she will because she's read a little of it so far, but I know her better.

LB (to myself): WTF, lady?  How can you possibly stand there with a straight face, full of righteous indignation, and talk over your child and tell her that you know better, just by looking at the cover of a book, about what she likes to read? You're a monster and a nightmare and I can say these things in a blogpost later, which will make me feel better, secure in the fact that, like Miss Elizabeth Lefoldt in The Help, you'll never recognize yourself.

LB (dejectedly): How about The Mysterious Benedict Society?  Do you think you she would like that?

The lady kept apologizing for her daughter's "talking back" and bad behavior.  I wanted to hold a mirror up to her instead.  She was clearly insane.  And what's more, because it wasn't a school day, there were a handful of children in our kids' area, sprawled out on bean bags and reading graphic novels (mostly Wimpy Kid books, but some of the Origami Yoda/Darth Paper ones, too) while she was talking about how trashy and beneath her daughter they were.

So, gentle readers, have you ever encountered such an overbearing parent, in either a personal or professional capacity?  I've read about them, of course, but dealing with one in person AND still providing good customer service was a difficult row for me to hoe.  


  1. Now I want to read The Emerald Atlas... Take that as vindication and proof that you know how to pitch a book (well). I bet all the MD reads is the NYTBR and she never actually reads a full book. Blecch. Hope she's a minor customer who doesn't come in again & instead the next weeks are filled with eager book buyers who respond by filling their arms with your recommendations and buying them from you, of course!

  2. Pardon my language, but ?!^&*@%!??? Holy crap, that poor kid. She should be happy that her kid wants to read! Other than wanting to steer a child away from books like Twilight that tell girls they're weak or other such things, I can't imagine any possible justification for that behavior. Poor kid! I read whatever I wanted as a kid, and my parents loved it and I loved it, and now as an adult, I prefer literary fiction, so all those Babysitter's Club books clearly didn't rot my brain! That makes me so mad! On an entirely different note, you sound like a fantastic bookseller. You provide more of what I'd expect from a librarian. I sell textbooks, so pretty much just what people need rather than want, so I rarely get a chance to provide recommendations (other than "you don't need that one - it just tells you how to use commas and you can find that online"), but I know that if I did, it would mostly consist of, "OH MY GOD YOU SHOULD READ ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS BECAUSE I LOVED IT SO MUCH." So kudos to you on your exceptional devotion to books and ability to deal with horrifyingly oppressive parents! :]

  3. HOLY. COW. I can only say I salute your self-restraint in not slapping her.

  4. Jesus H. Christ (sorry)! That woman is the worse parent ever. When I interviewed our local book proprietors for my blog post, they told a story about a woman who came in and pointed to a spot on one of their shelves and said, "You had a book that was right there last year when I came in here. Do you still have that book?" That was all. No title, no description of the cover...just it was right there.

    I also think I need to read the Emerald Atlas.

    I don't know why your comments aren't showing up on my blog! They get sent to me e-mail account, but don't show up on the post. Investigating, but thanks for the heads-up about Plaid Friday. I'll pass it along to folks in Madison for next year.

  5. Yeah, you handled that MUCH better than I would have in my day. Hence the grumpy!

  6. Oh dear :(

    How frustrating for you. I used to work in retail and the amount of times I had to bite my tongue...

    I am a primary school teacher in the UK and I teach in the opposite kind of area, with high levels of unemployment and low levels of literacy. I teach children who love to read but their parents don't care enough to take them to the library....at least that mum cared I supposed.

  7. What an infuriating woman, and poor, poor girl for having THAT as her parent. She seems the most sensible of the two by far.

  8. Wow. When I was a kid, I used to walk in chain pet stores, look at all the sad puppies in their cages, and vow to become very rich one day so I could return and rescue every sad puppy in the world. That's exactly how I feel about *downtrodden daughter*...As a teacher, I can attest that this kind of behavior doesn't go on unchecked forever. Someone, or something, always implodes eventually. Sigh. It would make a good short story? *Spoken in upspeak*

  9. I enjoyed "meaningful time out." Also, screw that lady! Good lord, *I* read some of those books. A book can be intellectually challenging and not use a ton of advanced vocab. That completely sucks she's withholding some truly awesome things from her daughter. That kid's gonna leave home and read nothing but shitty books as a way of getting back at her mom.

  10. This is sooo hilarious and well written! I LOVE it.

    As for snooty parents--oh man, we just dealt with a bully and her mother. Don't get me started on that.

    Awesome post!

  11. Poor girl! I had an advanced reading age when I was at school but at least I was allowed to pick things I wanted to read if I at least attempted the occasional challenging book.

  12. Do you work with me? I'm a bookseller at a used book store and I can't begin to recall the amount of times I've been involved in situations like yours.

    Like I said, I work in a used book store. Used. We sell and buy books and even though we have a distribution center, about 99% of what we have comes from the public. You wouldn't believe (although, judging from what you deal with, perhaps you would..) how many people come in, browse around, and then rage when they don't see "new" books. What we have is in good condition - we won't take books with tears, markings, broken spines, etc. Half the time you can't even tell a book is used, yet some customers act like our store is beneath them. ..yet they still keep coming back.

    Also, since we're a used book store, our inventory changes on a daily basis. Customers can't seem to understand that we just can't ~order~ a book for them.

    :) The best, though, is when someone comes in and says they MUST HAVE THIS BOOK!!!, but they don't know the title, the author, what the book is about...nothing.

  13. It's been a while since I had so many comments on a post--funny how the customer rants seem to generate the most!

    yeah, this lady was an overbearing nightmare. god only know what she'll drive her daughter to do if she doesn't lighten up.

    And yes, I, too, have had customers who come in and say, "I was here shopping last Christmas and you had a yellow book on display. Do you still have that?" and other variations on that theme. most of the time they have no idea what the book was about, much less an author or title. And it's even worse in a USED bookstore, so I can imagine your frustration!

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  15. UPDATE: Mommy Dearest called the store yesterday and asked if she could return the books she forced her daughter to buy. Apparently the daughter isn't interested in either of them . Go figure.

    The Paolini (i.e. the trashy one) was a big favorite with her college-age daughter, though.

  16. Hilarious! We get this kind of stuff all the time. Customers, can't live without them, can't punch them.

  17. LOL! I worked in an upscale independent children's bookstore for 6 years, and I can definitely attest that about half my interactions went something like this.

    People are crazy! I've worked with plenty of hipster parents, too, who don't want their child to read anything too "popular"

    But, the other half of people who I work with - the folks who raved, "Have you really read all of these books? You're so knowledgable! What was your name again? We'll ask for you when we come back! These ALL sound wonderful, we'll buy the entire stack!"
    Folk like that were what made it all worthwhile.

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  19. God, that mother sounds like a nightmare. This post actually made me realize how lucky I was. When my mother found out I was reading a Danielle Steel novel in elementary school, she just told me it was a little mature for me. She should have just taken it away, because that book was AWFUL. My mother was cool, though, and let me discover on my own how CRAPTASTIC that book was.

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