It has been lo, these many years since I bore the thousand insults of bookstore shoppers venturing my way. Spotting a plastic employee name badge is license for invective but it is no license for shared stupidity. I patrolled the aisles for three chain bookstores in the Manchester area over 15 years: the now-defunct Lauriat’s and Paperback Booksmith, and Barnes & Noble, known in some corners as Barney Noodles.
“Stupid is as stupid does,” said Mrs. Gump.
At some point in the game I vowed revenge. I was thinking a whack upside the head with a boxed wooden puzzle but this column will have to do.
Let me preface my remarks by saying I’ve yet to meet a bookseller who stands by the till quoting Shakespeare and Frost. Today’s bookseller must know his or her way around calendars, brass ornaments, Kenny G. CDs and Jimi Hendrix black-light posters. Literature is a fine thing but it is only one thing in today’s bookstore. Yes, I too spun the Harlequin Romance spinner, sorted greeting cards and carried a bag full of inventory control cards when needed. I set out to sail the seas of classic literature but brought a boogie board to work just in case.
“What happened to the book on this table with a blue cover with a fish on it?”
“We sold it.”
One harried Holiday shopper obviously on a mission from his wife, asked for “The book on the planets.”
“You mean Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus?”
A customer ordered the book How To Stop Procrastinating. We called him every five days for three months before he came in to pick it up.
“Should we get Uncle Edgar a book for his birthday,” she said.
“Nah. He’s already got one,” he said.
“I can’t find your bible section but do you have any books on professional wrestling?”
“Do you have any red collapsible snow shovels?”
I was sorely tempted to tell him we only had the blue ones left.
“You mean that’s all you have in here are books?”
“Is Richard Bachman Stephen King or is Stephen King Richard Bachman?”
“What are Frost Heaves? Did someone get sick?
“Do you sell Q-Tips or have a laminating machine?”
“Manchester needs an all-night bookstore.”
John Irving’s The World According to Garp was the first mass market-sized paperback to have different covers. This caused endless confusion.
“Is this a trilogy?” was a common question.
I’ve saved my favorite pair for last. The twisted title was actually noted in Publisher’s Weekly.
An in-a-hurry father requested the title Eat It with Hamilton’s Biology, claiming his high school daughter needed it pronto. It took several booksellers several minutes to decipher the book in question as Edith Hamilton’s Mythology.
A customer requested books on the Boston Celtics. I pointed out biographies on K.C. Jones and M.L. Carr and felt smug pivoting to land on Larry Bird’s Drive.
These suggestions did nothing to take the nonplussed look off the customer’s face.
He led the fast break further down the sale table and was delighted to find the book The Celtic World.
“This is what I’m looking for!” he exclaimed. “A history of the Boston Celtics!”
The impressive-looking oversized hardcover was a short-lived find. It was filled with the lost Celtic world of jewelry, architecture and talismans.
“This book has nothing to do with basketball!” he said.