20 November 2013

Bookish Things & Bookseller Rants

If you've been a recent reader of my blog, you'd be forgiven for thinking that I write a travel blog and that's that. I don't mean to whine (at least not much), but life has been on the hard side for the last 5-6 weeks.  I've been working 10-14 day stretches at a time with precious little time off.  At home we've battled black mold, power outages, no hot water, no heat, no internet, all topped off with a little flooding in that same time period. We were without a washing machine or dryer for that entire period, so I've had to get a little creative when it comes to laundry. (Hint: that's code for "I washed my underwear in the sink and just kept wearing the same 4 pairs of jeans without washing them.")

And did I mention that my bookstore just celebrated its 50th anniversary?  That's a pretty big milestone for any business, peoples, but for an independent bookstore?  That's practically unheard of.  We had mad fun but it was insanely busy in the long run-up to it. We capped it all off with a 1960s dance party and it looked a lot like this:

Or maybe this:

It's been so long since I've written a book review that the task somehow seems too monumental to tackle right now, so I'm just going to share some bookselling things that have happened to me recently. They range from adorably delightful to a little odd to unspeakable rudeness:

Customer calls and wants to know if we can order a book that she wants to buy that she has checked out of the library.  I ask for the title.  She says, "Oh, I left the book in the other room.  Should I go get it?" No, that's okay.  I've got ALL DAY.  Let me just try to guess what it is.
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Customer calls before the store opens and leaves message on the store answering machine, wondering if we have a certain book.  I call him back about 15 minutes after the store opens and say no, we don't, but I can have the book here in two days if you'd like to special order it.  He says, "Well, that's just a terrible way to run a business." Confused, I ask him what he means.  He actually raises his voice and say, "I shouldn't have to leave a message just to see if you have a book.  When I call Barnes & Noble, I get a real person to talk to." I try to explain that he called after hours.  He says, "Oh, no I didn't!  I called at 9:15 this morning and I had to leave that message." "Sir," I explain, "the store doesn't open until 10:00."  LONG pause. "Well, then I guess that makes me the terrible one," he chuckles.

Most upset customers don't recognize if they're ever in the wrong, so I really appreciated his saying that.  "Well, I'd say 'terrible' is putting it a little too strongly, sir," was my reply and he laughed. And then he ordered the book.
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Customer on phone: Can you get me X book?
    Me: No, I'm afraid that book is out of print, but we have somebody on staff who does those searches. Shall I have her take a look and call you back?
Customer, worried: Oh, dear.  I have to leave the house for a while.  I'd hate for her to be offended by leaving a message.  I have an answering machine.  Do you think that would be okay?
   Me: Yes, of course.
Customer: Are you sure she won't be offended?
  Me: Yes, quite sure.
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For our store's 50th anniversary, we gave away over $50 worth of books & goodies every hour at the :50 minute mark (get it?). We even let people decide whether they wanted a grab-bag of books for adults or children. One woman who won opted for a kids bag, but she called back the next day, quite irritated and asked if she could return them.  When asked what the problem was, she said that one book was too old for her 5-year-old son (the $40 Mo Willems book called Don't Pigeonhole Me) and that the other ones her son wouldn't be interested in because they were about a girl.  Never mind that it was a complete set of Madeline books in hardcover. In other words, picture book classics. We asked if maybe her son had a friend to share the books with, but nope. The woman said if she couldn't return them to us that she'd just throw the books away.  Excuse me?

It is the height of rudeness to call and complain about the free books that you've won, and in this instance it's an extreme case of gender bias. I mean, heaven forbid we encourage our children to read anything that doesn't reflect themselves back in the pages. But to then threaten to just throw those books away?

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But not all of my customer stories are quite so ugh. One of them is, as promised, adorably delightful. A father and his little girl walk into my store for the first time.  When the father asks if we have a children's department, we direct him to the lower level.  There's an interior stairway connecting the floors, with a landing in the middle, from which one can see the kids' department sprawled out below.  When the little girl reached the landing and saw all of the books and games, she gasped, "Oh, this is my paradise!" Except she was young enough to still have a slight lisp, so it came out, "Oh, thith is my paradithe!" I'm sure if I'd ever wanted children I would have wanted to take her home with me. 
She might not have been as cute as this panda ball, but it was close...
How about y'all?  What interesting bookish and/or work stories do you have to share?

26 comments:

  1. Oh my gosh, the lady who won the books sounds so infuriating. I would be happy to take the complete set of Madeline books for my five year old boy!

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  2. My favorite is the man who realized that his irritation at getting the answering machine was uncalled for. Many people would be too embarrassed to admit the mistake (and even apologize for it!). Extra points for the smooth way you handled it, and points to him for ordering the book. You've probably got a new customer for life :)

    Kudos on all the wonderful events to celebrate the Odyssey's 50th! Here's to a nice long rest ... in January.

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  3. I worked in an independent college bookstore briefly and I had one customer who was especially memorable. He came in holding a giant slice of pizza in his hand and was eating it as he browsed. He couldn't find the book he was looking for so he asked for help, and I happily showed him the textbook he was looking for, which cost $80. He said, OMG this is expensive! Sympathetic, I said yeah, they can get pretty pricey. Unfortunately, the price is set by the publisher and we don't have much control over that. He said, could I get this cheaper online? I was like hmm you'd have to research that. Still chomping on the pizza, he said, can I use your computer? Ahhh no.

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    1. Yeah, we get questions like that all of the time.

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  4. I...I have no words. What the hell is wrong with people?

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  5. Gah, I'm sorry this last month+ has been so stressful. Maybe you're just getting a bunch of crappy stuff out of the way at once.

    I love that the guy called himself terrible when he was in the wrong. Cos like you said, it happens so infrequently that someone admits they were wrong when they're being a douchy customer.

    That woman though, with the free books that she's bitching about. WTF? Hopefully the son turns out not terrible. But at least you got to see the adorable girl being adorable and excited about all the children's books

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    1. Thanks--it's been rough, but only when compared with first world problems, as they say.

      People: they never cease to surprise me. Sometimes even in good ways!

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  6. Excellent gifs.

    And aww, I'm sorry you've had to go through all that stuff. But tiny lisping girl! And several polite customers! Who seem fun, because ahaha bookish people are the weirdest kind of eccentric.

    Also I never wash my jeans unless they get baggy or an obvious stain on them. So. No judgment.

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    1. Aww, thanks on the no judgment. And you're so right--the weirdest and best kind of eccentric.

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  7. Everybody is commenting but nobody is congratulating you on this massive achievent: WOW! 50 years! Fantastic. Your last month and yourvtravelinclination makes me think you should read the latest posting on seniorbooks - You will love it and can use it too if you like.

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    1. Thanks, Johan. I'm heading over now to check out your post.

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  8. Oh that little girl reminds me of my eldest daughter (now at university studying creative writing). Santa asked her what she would like for Christmas and she said, "a bookshop with beanbags where you can stay all day."
    I was once in my local bookstore eavesdropping on 2 teenage boys who were looking through a list of English classic literature obviously provided by a teacher. They both agreed that it wouldn't be "cool" to choose something by a woman author because they always had such "flimsy plots". So having discounted Jane Austen and all the Brontes one chose "Hard Times" by Charles Dickens and the other "Middlemarch" by ...... George Eliot. I was chuckling for the rest of the day!!

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    1. I remember my own days of thinking George Eliot was a man, so I can smile at those high school boys with an amused understanding, colored with indignation on the reason they chose Eliot in the first palce.

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    2. Many congrats on your shop's golden anniversary. It really is quite something in this day of internet sales and electronic books to reach that milestone. Although I have an e-reader I will always be a book lover and hope that places like yours will be around for my grandchildren to enjoy.

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  9. Want me to come and beat up all those people for you? I'll do it, I'm not scared! (Disclaimer: I wouldn't even know where to begin beating someone up. Which is probably a good thing!)

    I know how you feel about the whole book reviewing thing- my reading and blogging has been TERRIBLE since I moved out of my parents' house and started having to do things for myself, and I just finished what I'm pretty sure is the worst book review ever. But, we all have to restart somewhere, right? Right.

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    1. We do have to start somewhere to get back into the groove. I'll read and support your book review and you can do the same for me as soon as I manage to actually write one. ;)

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  10. I worked as a bookseller (full time for about a year and a half, and then part time for the first couple of years I taught). On most days I loved my job and humanity. Then there were those days, from the outlandish to the surreal, that I wished I had a job that involved no human contact. The weirdest complaint we ever got was about the toilet tissue (the customer came out of the rest room carrying a sample when he complained to the manager that it was insufficiently soft). Customers complained that we didn't have newly released hardcover books in paperback. They complained that the books were not all sold at a sixty percent discount. And vacationers visiting from Manhattan complained that our store (on an island with a population of 32,000) did not have some obscure scholarly tome. And once a woman from New Jersey called a pregnant bookseller "that fat woman"! But (true story) I met my husband in that bookstore, so, happy ending!

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    1. I wish I could say I was surprised, but no, not really. You're going to be able to get some mileage out of that TP story, though. I met my husband in the bookstore where I was working in MS many years ago.

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  11. congratulations on the anniversary celebration! What a creative idea to give away $50 at :50! That ungrateful woman story made me very rage-y. Dealing with crazy customer-moments like that warrants another vacation, don't you think? :)

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    1. I'll not argue with you on vacation justification. I'm very good at that! ;)

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  12. Boooooo to all the bad things that have been happening! That sucks, my dear :-(

    But congrats on the 50th anniversary at your bookstore! It sounds like an awesome time, despite bitchy woman calling and being an ungrateful jerk.

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    1. Thanks! I bet you have your share of bizarre work stories yourself.

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  13. Oh no, that sounds like a terrible month! Hope things are looking up. I love the bookstore stories, though (except that one terrible lady with the free book complaints). And congrats on 50 years to the store - that's huge!

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Please, sir, may I have some more? (Comments, that is!)