Adventures in the Book Trade (Part 1)

In which The Author and his friends get asked some silly questions

While I was looking through my Twitter feed the other day, I found a message from Neil Gaiman plugging a forthcoming book. Mr Gaiman’s friend Jen Campbell, who works in an independent shop in London, has written Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops, due to be published in March 2012. It’s inspired me to try and recall some of the beauties my colleagues and I were faced with over the years. I can’t remember them all, obviously, but when you read them you’ll start to realise why my mental health became so fragile towards the end of my time in the shop. There’s only so much human stupidity one can take before finally snapping.
A girl once came into Lear’s at the Polytechnic of Wales and said, ‘I can’t remember the title, or the author, or what it’s about, but I know the cover is purple.’ Keeping a perfectly straight face, I told her I was colour blind. She apologised and left, while Kathryn H. did her best not to laugh.
Late one Thursday afternoon, another girl came into the shop in a state of panic. She needed to read a book in time to hand in an essay on Monday afternoon. The library’s only copy was out, and after I checked, it turned out to be out of print. Even if it had been available, we’d have needed a teleport to get it to her anyway.
She turned to me and said, ‘What am I going to do?’
I looked her straight in the eyes and replied, ‘Fail.’
Dillons occupied the former Tesco site in Cardiff city centre. That led to fun from time to time. Someone once asked Trish, ‘Is this Primark?’ (which was actually next door).
Even better, on Christmas Eve an elderly man rushed in and asked Jeff T. where he could find the frozen turkeys.
The parents of a first-year philosophy student once told me, ‘We need to buy Zen and Car Maintenance and Sophie’s Choice.’
I reassured them that they actually wanted Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Sophie’s World. I even promised they’d be able to exchange them if they were the wrong books. Surprisingly, they didn’t take me up on the offer.
A guy once asked me, ‘Have you got any recordings by Nostradamus?’ (He died in 1556.)
Trish was asked, ‘I’m looking for The Diary of Anne Frank, I don’t know who the author is.’
Louise was asked, ‘I’m looking for The Woodentops by Thomas Mann.’ (Or possibly Buddenbrooks.)
But the last (and my favourite) of this batch came to me by way of Keith, who was dealing with a customer in the travel section: ‘Is the whole world on this globe?’
(You can read Jen Campbell’s blog here.)
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