'Tis the Season · stuff I read

‘Tis the Season: I think we get to yell BINGO now #bookstorebingo

I haven’t done a ‘Tis the Season post in a while – none of the customers were uniquely strange or said anything funny. If I had a dollar every time I got asked where the Bibles were by a customer standing in front of the entire Bible aisle or similar….well, I could at least afford another student loan payment.

There is a Twitter hashtag #bookstorebingo (or #booksellerbingo, I’ve seen both) for booksellers tweeting about shit that only seems to happen to booksellers. Today the customers and staff were determined to get us to blackout on the imaginary bingo card.

I was asked:

  • To price-match Amazon (nerp)
  • To price-match Amazon after spending 20 minutes with the same customer and their long shopping list and offering to carry things and wrap gifts, etc. (yeah, websites don’t really do that for you)
  • To price-match Walmart (LOLwut)
  • To find a lost child (who was found by another bookseller when he came back into the store from outside)
  • To find a lost teacher (we had a school event today, oy)
  • To order a table lamp with the University of Iowa Hawkeyes logo (to start, we aren’t affiliated with the UI, and then lemme explain some things about trademarks and licensing, and then….we don’t sell bespoke lamps anyway)
  • To order a personalized, engraved bible (see also: things we don’t/can’t order)
  • To order A Song of Ice and Fire Book 6 (God laughed)
  • To order a desk calendar that didn’t exist (even Google couldn’t find this thing, so IDK what this person thought they saw in a magazine somewhere)
  • Why Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson series wasn’t in the teen section, they looked like such good books for kids (I…are we sure we are talking about the same Mercy Thompson series? It’s not erotica or anything, but teens are not the target audience?)
  • We also:
    • Had a broken espresso machine for part of the day (again)
    • Had someone stick Bibles in the Stephen King section (thanks, jerk, because I have to put all of them back now)
    • Had a bookseller arrive late because he got in a minor fender bender (he’s fine)
    • Had a bookseller arrive very late because she had a flat tire and had to get it fixed (almost 4 hours late….use the donut that’s what it’s for)
    • Had a bookseller work only half his shift because the poor guy had two wisdom teeth extracted yesterday (that’s legit reasons to call out, imo)
    • Had a bookseller not show up because he couldn’t get his shift covered (idk about this one, the managers knew about it? So I stayed for a few extra hours because I like money and the store was a wreck and needed some sort of recovery so it didn’t look like a complete trash heap when I came back to work on Monday.)
    • Had a computer at customer service freeze repeatedly so we turned it off and I put a note that said “Frozen” on it and then everyone kept making “Let It Go” jokes (I did sort-of walk into that one)

    And competing for the center square:

    • Had a customer ask for a Harry Potter advent calendar, which we’ve been sold out of for weeks (look, world, the good/fun/cute advent calendars with LEGO mini-figures or toys or what have you sell out early every year no matter how many we order and are then unavailable until the following fall, so if you leave your advent calendar shopping until after advent has started you are left with a rather sad selection of “open the flap” and “chocolates of suspect age” advent calendars *whomp whomp*)
    • Had a kid barf in the children’s section which required both of our children’s booksellers to clean up and it was on the carpet requiring use of the weird stuff that “dries out the vomit” so it can be swept up and the carpet then vacuumed (this is the second time in almost two weeks that we’ve had a kid hurl in the middle of the kids’ section and our children’s leads are fucking metal about cleaning that up because I get even a hint of stomach smell and have to leave the area; also, we’re all probably going to die of norovirus now, it was nice knowing you, last Saturday I had to help unclog one of the toilets)
    • Had an unbelievably extra woman go up to one of the cashiers and complain about the booksellers cleaning up the vomit and couldn’t we do something else about it? (Like, what, stand around and smell it all day? Leave it there? Use the chunky vom as materiel for a story time craft project? The mind boggles.)

    Today’s BINGO squares brought to you by every tool bag customer who was absent that day in kindergarten when they taught patience, walked up to me while I was engaged with another customer, and interrupted to ask something stupid like if we sold magnetic phone chargers or whatever. If you aren’t on fire or missing a small child or need an ambulance, get in line.

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    'Tis the Season

    ‘Tis the Season: As the school year winds down…

    The end of the school year (both K-12 and college) brings a flurry of odd bookstore encounters.

    Two high schoolers (likely boyfriend/girlfriend) are looking around the history section with that utterly lost look on their faces.
    Me:  Can I help you find something?
    Girl:  Well…we need to read 1984 but it’s not here. (Waves at US History)
    (Oh honey, no….)

    Two teachers are wandering around in the fiction section.
    Male teacher:  Do you have any Faulkner?
    Me: Yes we do – which book are you looking for?
    Female teacher:  Oh, any are fine.
    (I showed them the shelf of Faulkner, they made appreciative noises, and I left them to browse.  About 15 minutes later, they come find me.)
    Female teacher:  Do you have any shorter Faulkner?
    Me (shorter?):  Are you looking for short stories?
    Female teacher:  Not really.  These are pretty dense.  (Shows me Absalom, Absalom, As I Lay Dying, and The Sound and the Fury)  We were hoping for something like this but shorter.
    Me: Well…I don’t see any abridgements available in the catalogue.  There are literature guides like Sparknotes.
    Male teacher: Oh, those will work.  We just need it for Contest Speech.
    (I’ve never come across a kid who did Faulkner for Contest Speech – I can’t decide if that would be interesting or just plain nuts)

    Parent with an armload of AP biology and calculus study guides: Are these books guaranteed?  The tests are next week and my son needs a 5.
    (Unless the courses and exams have changed greatly since 1996, which I doubt, the result is more dependent on whether one paid attention in class all year rather than the cram session but, no, a study guide is not a guarantee of a perfect score.)

    Customer (college-aged male): You don’t have any copies of Paradise Lost.
    Me (finding this very hard to believe because I saw some not long ago): Well, let’s go look on the shelves in poetry.
    Customer: Poetry?? But I don’t want to read a poem.
    Me: Here it is, under Milton in poetry.
    Customer: Do you have one that isn’t a poem?
    Me: No. Milton wrote a poem about the fall of Satan.
    Customer: Do you have it in English?
    (Give up while you’re ahead, big guy)

    Very pleasant college student on the phone:  Do you have a copy of Ulysses?
    Me: We do, do you need a particular edition?
    (She needs the Knopf with the 1961 text, which we had on hand)
    Student: Great! I’ll be in to pick it up tonight.  Will it take long to read?  I have to have my paper done by the end of finals.
    (Finals were about 10 days away when she called.  Um….)

    Most often-heard response to the statement “Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy in the store but I can get one in about a week”:
    “But I need it tomorrow!”
    (And then when I mention things like libraries and ebooks I get a withering look in return)

    I also have a more generalized comment about Lexile scores, but will save that for a different post.

    'Tis the Season

    ‘Tis the Season: My favorite request of 2012

    This request from Christmas Eve pretty much took the cake:

    A very smart-looking, well-appointed lady (chic overcoat, lots of jewelry, conservative haircut, good handbag) asked:
    Can you recommend a book for an aging, leftist hippie who likes Carl Hiaassen?  Oh, and he’s really smart.  He’s a genius.

    Hot. Damn.

    Aside from the fact that on Christmas Eve I was extremely limited in what I could recommend since I couldn’t order anything and get it from the warehouse by the time we closed (which was in about 3 hours), what does one recommend in this instance.  Is Carl Hiaassen a hippie?  He doesn’t look like a hippie.  Is it the mystery what he likes?  The only things I could come up with that were hippie-ish and genius-ish were John Irving and WP Kinsella.  Would those be good for Carl Hiaassen fans?  Especially aging ones?  What about geniuses?

    I was torn between recommending something really snobbish like Naked Lunch (which an aging, leftist, genius, hippie has likely already read), laughing because everyone is a genius (I mean everyone – if granny asks for a book for her 11 year old grandchild, he/she is always an advanced reader, always, and therefore needs Dickens even if the poor kid is trying to suture the Wimpy Kid box set to his/her arm), and just grabbing a whole load of thrillers in the let’s-throw-some-things-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks philosophy.

    'Tis the Season

    ‘Tis the Season: The "Things You Want But Can’t Have" Edition

    So, amongst all the gift requests for “I need a book about wolves for my fourth grade son” and “Where’s the Oprah book?” we get requests to order books that are existentially challenged.  They are either in process, planned, or completely non-existent, but completely unavailable to me as a bookseller.

    Welcome to a list of “Things you want but can’t have”:

    • Entwined With You (available in May, sorry)
    • The fourth Fifty Shades of Gray book (announced but likely unwritten as yet)
    • A Dance With Dragons in paperback (maybe May, since the last release date got pushed back)
    • The sixth A Song of Ice and Fire book (in progress, not finished yet – GRRM has a blog where he occasionally posts tidbits and updates)
    • The new Robert Jordan book (A Memory of Light is not available until January 8 – save your gift cards)
    • The new Patrick Rothfuss book (I’m not sure when The Doors of Stone will be available; I have heard May but the date hasn’t been officially announced)
    • The new Rick Riordan book (well, since your kid already read The Mark of Athena I don’t have any newer than that)
    • A new book by Christopher Paolini (sorry, no dice)
    • Catching Fire and Mockingjay in paperback (unfortunately that format is not available for retail sale, blame Scholastic)
    • Any Wimpy Kid books in paperback (again, blame Scholastic)
    • The Twilight-from-Edward’s-perspective book (likely never to be published since it got “leaked” years ago)
    • The new Harry Potter (which was really a request for The Casual Vacancy, which the customer didn’t want after learning it wasn’t a Harry Potter book)

    And in the line of regular, random, crazy-pants requests/incidents:

    • A non-fiction novel (eh? And what he actually wanted was a local-yokel author’s book of history)
    • A book about Ohio State football (which we don’t have on hand since we’re in Iowa and the University of Iowa is down the road making OSU football anathema)
    • Gabby Gifford’s gymnastics book (er, do you mean Gabrielle Douglas?)
    • A customer told me how much more he gets laid now that the Fifty Shades & Co. books are out.  (TMI, dude, beyond TMI.  Also, please bathe.  Ack.)
    • Books on panning for gold (which have to be ordered since we don’t really have a market for those here in a breadbasket state)
    • I tried to hand-sell Thurber’s The Thirteen Clocks to a woman who told me it sounded “weird” then turned around and bought Gaiman’s Coraline (which is also a “weird” book, but whatever)

    Only five more bookselling days until Christmas!

    'Tis the Season

    ‘Tis the Season: Football, School, and *sigh*

    Weekends are heating up at the store.  Lots of traffic, lots of questions, and lots of *headdesk*

    Related to football season:
    – “Why don’t you have books on [insert name of visiting football team from across the country here]?”  Because they aren’t the home team or even in the same state.
    – “Do you have a book that explains football to kids?” The child in question is using a teething ring, no lie.
    – “Do you have the game score?” And he wasn’t even interested in the game being played in town, which was the game I had up on ESPN.

    Related to school:
    Customer: “Do you have books on Egypt?”
    Me: “Like a travel book?”
    Customer: “Uh…sure!”
    So we go to the travel section and I get out all six books on travelling in Egypt.
    Customer: “My daughter has to write a report on the Sphinx.”
    And I turn to see a kid who is maybe ten years old, possibly eleven.  Unfortunately, we do not have books about the Sphinx specifically in the store, at all, or at any store in the area, and none of the books in the history section (adult or child) have much information on the Sphinx at all.
    Customer: “Well, how is [my child] going to get her report done by Monday???”
    *headdesk*
    Seriously???!???!!  Perhaps you could try the library since those books are already purchased with your tax dollars.  

    Customer on phone:  “Do you have City of Glass?  It’s a graphic novel.”
    Checks computer – unfortunately we don’t have Paul Auster’s graphic novel adaptation of his novella.
    Customer on phone:  “Isn’t that by Cassie Clare?”
    Me: “I believe there are planned graphic novel adaptations of the Mortal Instruments series but those aren’t available, yet.”
    Customer on phone: “Oh, yeah, so I guess it is by that guy you mentioned.  Do you know where I could get this? I have to have it read for class by Tuesday.”
    *headdesk* Ugh, seriously?  Library?  Has the general population forgotten about this very valuable resource for getting homework and school work done on time?

    Customer (walks up to me): “Chaucer.”
    Legit, that was the opening to the conversation.  No, “Excuse me” or “Can you help me find something?” just a word.
    Me:  “Er, are you looking for something specific?”
    Customer: “Chaucer.”
    Me (ARGH!):  “Do you need a specific title or translation?”
    Customer (blinks a bit at me):  “Poetry?”
    Me (not the answer I was expecting): “Er, right.  There are a couple of different major poems.  The Parliament of Fowls or The Canterbury Tales, perhaps?”
    Customer:  “Oh, yes, tales!”
    And hands me a Post-It with “Chaucer Wife’s Tail” written on it.  And, yes, it was spelled like that.
    Me: “OK.  This edition here is probably the cheapest if you don’t need a specific edition.”
    Customer:  “I need an easy one.”
    Me:  “OK.” (hands her a different volume) “This is the No Fear edition which will have a modern English translation on the facing page.  It’s pretty user-friendly.”
    Customer: “Does it have the Wife’s Tale?”
    Me:  “Yes, it has the entire set of Tales so that would include the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale.”  And I show her where they are in the book.
    Customer: “Oh, good.  Do you know where I could get a summary?  I’m a tutor and don’t have time to read this.”
    *headdesk*  I hope they aren’t paying her very much.

    Customer:  “Where are your Christmas sales?”
    Me:  “We don’t have our holiday sales out yet, ma’am.”
    Customer (aghast):  “Why not??”
    Um, because it isn’t even Hallowe’en yet?  Keep your shirt on, we’ll have them out the first week in November.

    And in the “Awwwww” department:
    I’m back in the Kids’ section and the cutest little girl with pigtails and glasses comes up to me.
    Girl: “Excuse me please, could you show me where you keep the Percy Jackson books?”
    (and of course she has the cutest lisp, too)
    So I show her where the books are on display.  She very solemnly looks over the table, chooses Percy Jackson #4, and turns to me with a great big smile.
    Girl: “I love books!  Don’t you?”
    Me: “I do!”
    Girl: “When I grow up I want to read books all day!”
    She hugs the book and scampers off but turns around and comes straight back.
    Girl: “I forgot to say thank you!  Thank you for helping me!”
    And off she goes again. Dear parents of this child – your kid is adorable and I hope she stays that way.  Kids like her go a ways toward making a long day shorter.

    'Tis the Season

    ‘Tis the Season: Are we there, yet?

    The bookstore has been batshit crazy as of late.  People have suddenly remembered THEY NEED TO BUY CHRISTMAS PRESENTS and RIGHT NOW!  Which is a) a good thing for business, but b) kindergarten rules apply at the bookstore:

    1.  If you (as a customer) see me (a bookseller) woking with another customer (showing him/her books, listening as the customer describes what he/she is looking for, looking something up on the computer while said customer looks over my shoulder, etc) DO NOT butt into the bookseller-customer conversation by saying “I just have a question.”  Congratulations, so does the person I am currently helping.  Now you look like an inconsiderate jerk and makes me not want to help you at all.  The only exceptions are emergencies like “Call 911!”, “I think there’s a fire!”, “I’m having a heart attack!”, or “I lost my child!”  Trust me – I, and my fellow booksellers, will drop everything to help you in those situations.  Your need to find Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible does not constitute an emergency.

    2.  Remember having to line up to go to the lunchroom?  The same principles apply to queue lines during Christmas (or any time of the year, really, and are totally not limited to bookstores).  Line-jumping because you are “in a hurry” only gets you redirected to the back of the line.  Pretty sure the people who lined up politely are also “in a hurry” but will be put-out because you budged in front of them.  And some of those polite customers are vocal if you do!

    For the chuckles, some random gems from the season:

    • “I need a copy of Wine Spectacular.”  (How about Wine Spectator?)
    • “Does the Elf on the Shelf come with the shelf?”  (Er, no.)
    • Related:  “Elf on the Shelf looks like it was resurrected from my Grandma’s garage sale.” (I completely agree…tacky and creepy…yet, I must sell them, boo.)
    • “Do you sell Wal-mart gift cards?”  (No, Wal-mart’s up the road.)
    • “Do you sell Amazon gift cards?”  (This one always tempts me to just be really rude.)
    • “Do you have my class textbooks?”  (It was finals last week.  Some college student just assumed we would have copies of her $300 economics textbook on hand for her to use.  Because we’re the library, donchaknow.)
    • “I need the book for the TV show.”  (For serious, which TV show?  Game of ThronesThe Walking DeadSimpsonsMad MenDownton Abbey?)
    • “Do you have books about South Carolina ghost stories?”  (Says the customer with the “Shop Locally” button from the Chamber of Commerce; dudes, we are in IOWA…unless you want Flannery O’Connor, which is about as close as I can come with on-hand stock, we have to get that from one of the stores in South Carolina.  It took nearly 10 minutes for me to convince her that paying for the item in store and having it shipped directly to the recipient from our warehouse was equivalent to “Shopping Locally”.)
    • “I need a book for my [insert middle-grade age here] grandson/granddaughter.  He’s/She’s an advanced reader.”  (They’re ALL advanced readers, every single one of them, yet when I actually get books that would be high school level – which is the level claimed – for a fifth grader those are always “too hard”; be honest with yourself and pick out something the child will actually read.)
    • “Do you have an abridged version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone?”  (Considering thsi is a children’s book, written around a 4th grade reading level…no…but I do have a Sparknotes if you’d like that instead.)
    • “I want the English translation of Romeo and Juliet for my daughter in high school.”  (Must. Control. Fist. Of. Death.  Please, take this No Fear Shakespeare edition and run before the literature snob comes bursting out of my chest to hurl vitriol at you.)
    • “Do you sell athletic socks?” (Not yet.)
    • “Do you have The Self?” (This was a toughie…after going around and around with some questions, I figured out she wanted The Help.)
    • “Do you have the book I Killed Lincoln?”  (Close…so very close….)
    • “This book is too long.”  (It’s George RR Martin, what did you expect?  We’ve only been waiting for YEARS for it.  Also, this was said about the new Stephen King…nothing out of the ordinary there, either.)
    • “This book doesn’t have a Lexile score.”  (Take it up with Lexile – and then tell your child’s teacher to stop relying on a computerized system that downgrades Hemingway because he uses short sentences and won’t score books in blank verse because the computer can’t “analyze” them.)

    Bonus:  Overhead at the hospital on Hanukkah:  “That’s a mariachi band – it has an accordion.” (No, that’s a klezmer band – accordions are not exclusive to South of the Border.)

    'Tis the Season

    ‘Tis the Season: It could be worse

    Oddly enough, holiday season this year has had fewer incidents of customer craziness (at least for me, I have plenty to complain about when it comes to employees).

    I’ve had a customer ask me what exit you take to get to Cedar Rapids from Iowa City. [There’s no exit.  You get on I-80 and follow the signs for I-380 Northbound…it goes straight through the center of Cedar Rapids.]

    I spent a good twenty minutes with a grandma who had absolutely zero idea what her grandchildren like at all.  The list she got from her daughter wasn’t very informative, either, being full of errors and conflations.  I suggested gift cards; grandma decided to call her daughter again. [I still stand by the gift card idea.]

    I had a customer ask me if all the millions of ebooks come preloaded on the e-reader. [Er, no.  I don’t even want to think about how many gigabytes that would be.]

    Another bookseller told me he had a customer who insisted the e-reader “made it’s own Internet.” [He swears he’s not making that up.]

    Someone asked if we sold paint…as in the kind you put on the wall. [Lowe’s is across the highway.]

    A coworker observed that Tuesday was “Little Old Lady with Very Long List” day – she said the LOLs always keep their VLLs on an old steno pad in their purse.  Next to the Kleenex.

    I also had a very (very) bashful little boy who wanted to thank me for hosting his school’s bookfair. [I personally didn’t host it the store did, but he was so darn cute and shy.]

    Once again, student fun!

    • I was asked if we had a “quiet study room”.  She didn’t seem to understand the sentence “No, we do not have a study area, we are a bookstore not a library.” [I hear all three public libraries and all the University branch libraries have very lovely study carrells/rooms…I’ve made use of them from time to time.]
    • I keep getting the “But my paper is due tomorrow! Why don’t you have my book??” line. [Nope, still don’t care about your lack of time-management skills.]
    • Some idiot actually told me he doesn’t like to go to the library and wanted to know what his options were for getting access to a rather expensive, and what seemed like, academic book. [I really wanted to say “Well, I guess you’re shit-outta-luck” but I didn’t since I was working.  What I really did was hop on the UI libraries site, pull up the catalog, and find the book he wanted…which is on reserve as a book for his course.  I suggested he start by making use of the reserve copy at the library.  I don’t think that was the answer he was looking for.]