Bookshop blether part four thousand and sixty seven

My first customer of the day walked around the counter, spotted the ‘gay fiction’ sign, and dragged his wife from the shop proclaiming that he wasn’t going to stay somewhere where they allow ‘filth like that.’
I knew it was going to be a grand day!

A woman approached me for a book written by someone with ‘A strange name. I’m not sure how it is pronounced but it is spelt C L A R E. Clar, perhaps, or Cla ray?’
‘Claire?’ I ventured, ‘Claire doesn’t have to be spelt with an I’
‘Yes, Claire, that’s it. Do you have a book by someone called Claire?’
‘Is that a surname, or first name?’
‘Right. Well we arrange our books alphabetically according to surname, do you have any more information? No? Oh!’

The fifty millionth customer asked me where we keep Shakespeare, and I told them his plays are…yup, you guessed, with the plays, not the classic novels. How come nobody knows that he wrote plays?

A woman asked for the Magic Bus series for children, and I misread the computer screen and thought there was one called ‘The Magic Bus explodes’. I thought it wouldn’t be that jolly! (It was The Magic Bus Explores)

My manager told me that with stock take coming up I need to clear out my reservations pile. I totted up how much money I’d need to buy my stash of books, and when I hit the £100 mark I figured I’d best put some back!

Crazy arse customers (part gazillion and 3)

You know the drill by now. I get customers, many of them are just after, yup, no surprise, a book, and the transaction that ensues is safe and unmemorable. I sold many books today, I was helpful and friendly. I had a good talk with a couple of strangers. I like to think that in a small way I made their day easier, friendlier. But we don’t talk about them here. Nope. We concentrate on the crazy arse side of things:

I came back from my break, through a back door, and saw a man shaving, with an electric razor, over a pyramid pile of books in the fiction section. We made eye contact, and then he continued shaving his chin. And I walked on by, over to my till point, where I told my colleague.

That’s…random huh? I mean, who would do that? And why? Why on earth would you find yourself in a bookshop and think, y’know, I need a shave? Why would you be carrying an electric razor?

Janice Galloway is in my top three (and my teeny part in her success!)

Who is the best? Your favourite? Top ten? Blah blah. Of course it’s silly, there’s room for more than ten, one should be ‘allowed’ to pick however many one likes…but it’s a game we play. From best friends to favourite bands we pick and choose, and shuffle, add and subtract from our internal lists.

Who is your favourite writer?


I have several that always make my own ‘authors that I love/admire/respect’ internal list, and one of them is Janice Galloway. If I am ever asked to pick one novel from the many I have read to recommend then I will choose ‘The trick is to keep breathing’.

It’s a wonderful book describing a woman’s grief and unravelling life. It feels familiar and yet illuminates with such precision that it astonishes me. It melds wit with empathy and employs trailing sentences and playful typography that all work towards the creation of a very ‘real’ character in Joy (ho ho).

Galloway’s short stories similarly shine truth on our lives, and I marvel constantly at how skilled she is at picking the exact right words.

And in my bookshop I couldn’t recommend her because we didn’t stock her. (Please note past tense! )

I can’t imagine why she wasn’t stocked because to me she is one of the most important writers alive. As a trying/aspirational/daring to go for the dream/ writer myself it is frustrating to think that one may be as gloriously talented as Janice Galloway, and still not get sales and support. What hope is there for the rest of us?

I ordered in a few copies of her short story collection ‘Where you find it’ for my short story display. I wrote a review for it, saying ‘You should buy this book and discover her talent for yourself’, and people have. It’s thrilling, we have reordered a couple of times now, and I’m talking about 12 copies in total, not hundreds or thousands, nothing that’s of any consequence. Still, they are copies that wouldn’t have sold otherwise, so in a teeny tiny way I am doing a little something to promote her work. I have ordered in copies of ‘The trick is to keep breathing’ too.

It makes me smile to know that people have read my recommendation and given a book a go, and it’s a good feeling knowing that a brilliant author is being discovered by people who may not otherwise have come across her.

Back in the bookshop

A man stood at the counter, leaning towards me as I searched my computer for a book that he was interested in. I could see him picking at spots on his face, pick pick pick, then he rolled the skin, scab, pus, whatever, between his fingers and dropped it onto the floor.
I gave him A Hard Look, but he carried on. It made it difficult to concentrate.
When I gave him his change I was really careful not to make physical contact.

A woman and a boy asked for help finding a book. I told them that the book they wanted was located on the fourth floor. The woman looked a bit peeved, so I helpfully said I would call up and see if they could send the book down, which they did. Her son had a bookmark in his hand, it was a paper bookmark with a piece of string that attached a Harry Potter emblem to it. The mum said the boy wanted to pay by himself. Sure. I smiled, I took the cash, I offered a bag, I gave the receipt.
He tugged at the plastic doodah.
‘Don’t pull that,’ the mum said. ‘It will come off.’
He pulled again. They walked 2 steps away from the counter. The woman turned and came back, holding out the broken bookmark.
‘This is broken,’ she said. ‘What are you going to do about it?’

Christmas customers part II.

Work was really shit today. Relentless and tedious and full of rude people barking words at me like:
‘TV magicians.’
Usually at Christmas time there is an energy, a buzz that comes from the busyness, and people smile and are a wee bit chatty and cheery. Not this year. So many grumpy people.

‘My girlfriend likes books, I dunno, she likes romance, what shall I get her?’
‘My mum likes Catherine Cookson, what’s like that?’
‘My dad likes historical fiction, what have you got?’
‘My mate loves Dan Brown, what’s similar?’
‘Have you got Kerry Katona’s biography?’
And so I dutifully fetch them whatever utter shite it is that they think their loved one wants, and they snatch it up and leave, and I sigh and wish that people read what I want them to!
Actually, there was a quote in Time Out this week from a chef, and he said something like ‘Good taste is not subjective, it’s what I have’, and it made me chuckle, because yeah, actually, me too! 🙂

Krazy khristmas kustomers

So it’s the season eh?
The time of year when people who generally avoid bookshops get asked to buy a book as a gift and find themselves baffled by the sheer volume of stock. We have five floors of books organised by subject matter, and yes, sometimes it is confusing.
Poetry? Sure, it’s next to parenting, obviously!
An atlas? Hmm, would that be with geography on second, travel and maps on third, or reference on fourth?

Yesterday I was asked for Kerry Katona’s novel. My colleague refused to believe such a thing existed, saying that surely it was in biography, but no, Ms Katona is named as the author of a, cough, novel.
The customer was a youngish woman, and she said that she knew it would be under ‘K’, but that’s she’s not good enough with her alphabet to be able to know where K would come. Which is too obvious a joke, and you know, let’s say she is someone who doesn’t read much but that Kerry putting her name to a book encourages her to read, so, it’s a good thing really and we should stop being so fucking snobby. I did bite my lip and try not to smile.
Anyway, even though the computer said that we had six copies I couldn’t find them at first. This was because the lovely man who runs fiction had hidden them under a table. (He denied that they were hidden, because, as he said, I did find them eventually.)
My colleague turned to me after the customer had left and said ‘That must really piss you off, you’re a writer and yet someone like Kerry Katona has a novel published, just like that.’ I said yeah, and then we got busy and I didn’t think about it much, but it occurs to me now that whilst I think it is utterly stupid to give book deals to people who can’t write and don’t write, who instead employ other people to cobble something together for them, I am not pissed off by it. It’s up to us to decide if that is the sort of book we want to read, and it is simply not something I would aspire to at all. Perhaps Kerry did write this book, or maybe she dictated the ‘story’ to someone who merely polished the grammar and so on, or possibly she just allowed her name to be used. Whatever. It’s not a book I would want my name on, it’s not a book I would want to read. But some people do want to, and my question then is why?


I get that it is fascinating to read a sleb biography, and as I understand it (not being one who gives a shit about it) Kerry’s story is as grim and bleak as any one of the misery memoirs that are so prevalent. But who the fuck then needs to read a fictionalised account?


This was my Saturday.

A man jabbered at my computer screen in the book shop yesterday:
‘Your computer does not work,’ he shouted as he walked away. This was the first I had seen of him, I smiled.
‘Can I help you?”
‘Your computers don’t work,’ he repeated.
‘Oh? What’s wrong?’
‘They say you have 4 copies of a book but it’s not on the shelf. I phoned and checked that you had the book and was told you had 4 copies. They aren’t on the shelf.’
‘ Did you get an assistant to check for you?’
‘I haven’t got time. I made a special trip here and I’m badly parked.’
‘What is the book? Let me…’
He was gone, down the stairs, shouting about how crap the shop was.

A man who smelt like pooh spent the morning sitting in a chair, browsing books. I wondered if it were a legitimate reason for calling our security guard.
‘Hey, this guy smells shitty, can he be arrested?’
I decided that actually, no, it isn’t an offence!

I spent the day keeping a migraine at bay, taking double strength Ibuprofen and trying to ignore the fact that I was feeling over heated, clammy and queasy.

Waterstone’s has launched a loyalty card. When a customer makes a purchase we swipe the card through the till and points get added which can be used against purchases in the future. Students get 10 percent off at the moment too. The leaflets are displayed at the till points, and many customers are delighted by the idea. But some think that we want to suck their very souls from their body and sell them to Satan. Or something.
A student asked me about the card and discount, I explained, she took the form and began filling it out, and then her mother swooped upon her screeching ‘What are you doing? It’s not worth it? Don’t let them have your details, they want your details.”
The mother then gave me a disgusted look.
Grrr argh etcetera.

An old man came to collect a reserved book, but refused to give his details so that I could complete the requisite paperwork.

Someone asked for a true story about a criminal, that’s pretty much all they knew about the book they had been recommended, so I referred them to the true crime section, but no, it turns out the book is in fiction, so therefore is not true! Which I pointed out when they told me I had got it wrong, but they wouldn’t believe me, even when I showed them the back of the book which said it was literary fiction.

The trains weren’t running so it took me from 7.45 a.m until 9.45 a.m to get door to door. The bouncy replacement bus didn’t help my nausea any as it took an hour and 40 minutes to go where the train does in 40 minutes. I was dreading the journey home, but the bus driver winked and said he wanted to get back fast for his dinner, and he did! I think he was almost as fast as the train.

I did buy a fabulous woolly hat in my lunch break though, so not all bad!

Ha ha ha bonk (laughing my head off)

One of my colleagues got pranked yesterday. Someone asked her for a book about a man who ate his own faeces or some such, and she looked on the computer for it… They then told her she’d been secretly filmed for a comedy show and asked her to sign a release form so they can use the footage. She declined. Thing is they obviously don’t realise that she didn’t bat an eyelid or react because we get genuinely asked for similar all the time and have learnt to display blank disinterest rather than blush or question.

There’s a regular who asks for a medical book about giving birth, and then says it’s for work so he needs it to be more graphic than the general pregnancy guides, then asks if we have anything that shows “women’s bits” opening wide in more close up detail.

There’s the guy who came screeching in, drunk, demanding “I NEED LESBIAN PORN NOW”.

There are the faux photographer’s who buy “art” books that are really just tits and arse shots.

The man who asked for water sports and didn’t want the sport section.

The woman whose boyfriend told me she was looking for rude books to get off on.

I’m sure there is an alternative health book that advocates the drinking of urine.

And so on.

So yeah, when someone asks for a book on pooh, we will just look it up and tell you if we have it. We’ll even offer to order it for you if we don’t.

Just isn’t funny is all.

(Oh, this post is gonna fuck with my google stats isn’t it, sorry to disappoint any one who is here for another reason than book blether!)

Morning people vs afternoon people.

I went to work yesterday for the first time in almost 3 weeks. I worked on my favourite floor, fiction (like, wow Sara, we wouldn’t have guessed that.) In the morning there were books to be shelved, customer orders to be rung through, displays to tidy and lots of customers. The customers were cool: one said how much she liked my necklace, another thanked me for “being lovely”, a professor chatted, lamenting the enormous amount of factual books he has to read, saying how he misses fiction. Time passed pleasantly enough. Then after lunch the weather became muggy and the customers became snappy. A man punched the lift door because it closed before he got there, families dragged screeching children around the store, the staff became niggly, the day dragged hotly on.

My personal pet book shop hate is when a customer will ask for a book, and in the course of our transaction will announce with some kind of pride that it is not for them as they don’t read. This is always said loudly, brightly, as if it is a cool edgy thing that they say. Personally I assume from that point on that they are a moron! I mean, by all means don’t read if you don’t wish to, I think that you’re missing out on one of the most pleasurable things this life offers, but then again I don’t listen to classical music and I know how many people get huge satisfaction from doing just that. The difference is that I don’t feel any need to walk into a classical music shop, approach the assistant and proclaim that I don’t like it.

At the end of the day a man insisted on slowly explaining his favourite stories to me despite me saying that we were closing. When I said that I’d have to hurry him as it was 6 o’ clock he became most disgruntled.

I left the store and waited at the traffic lights outside, men with cans of Tennants lager in their fists faced down drivers as they swarmed arrogantly across the road, daring the cars to move.

I got to the train and sank into my seat, tired, wanting to have some quiet reading time, but 5 children squashed themselves into and onto the luggage rack adjacent to me, and proceeded to fart and make monkey sounds all the way home.

I fantasised about resigning.

Bookseller/ Counsellor

From time to time a customer will approach the desk to make an enquiry and, in the course of doing so, reveal something personal and sad about themselves. I will respond, sometimes with fake bookseller politeness, sometimes with genuine interest and sometimes with a wash of empathy.
(Other times I veer backwards in horror at the nuttiness that can unravel.)
This weekend a middle aged man came in with an enquiry about audio books. I answered him, offered a suggestion or 2 and smiled as he left. He returned shortly after with another similar question. This time he revealed that he suffers from problems with his memory, brought on by shock.
He said that he was mugged several years ago. I won’t go into details because I would hate for him to happen upon himself on-line one day. Suffice to say that apparently the incident shocked him so much that he no longer has the ability to hold new memories. He therefore is unable to continue his work as a teacher. He seemed nice, sad, vague. He says he feels very vulnerable and won’t go out after dark.
We chatted for a while, he was apologetic about taking up my time. I told him it was fine, and it was. It seems to me that if his story is true (and why would it not be) that’s what he is left with. This is him, he is a man who was mugged and now has a problem. It’s the information that he has waiting to spill out of him, he has lost who he was, indeed is no longer able to be that person and function in the ways that he did before. He has become this man as a result of a random act of violence. He wants to tell everyone, because it is huge and important and all consuming. He looks the same as he ever did, retains his long term memory, and is passed unnoticed always. He bears no visible scars of trauma, it’s all in his head, and he says that the doctors deem it a form of neuroses now. He hates that.