In which The Author gives some silly answers
One particular feature of the book trade was (and presumably still is) the propensity of customers to ask silly questions. My earliest Adventures in the Book Trade
catalogued some of the gems which came our way when my friends and I worked in various shops in Cardiff. I’m sure there were others, but I can’t remember them all.
It came as something of a relief to find that we weren’t alone. The brilliant London-based bookseller Jen Campbell has compiled a couple of books about the Weird Things People Say in Bookshops. Next time I’m in that neck of the woods I might make a point of searching out her shop and calling in to thank her for putting them all between covers.
The trouble is (as the old saying has it), if you ask a silly question you get a silly answer. There were times when it became almost irresistible to take the piss. Most of the time you could get away with it.
On one occasion it backfired badly, though. That was a sobering experience, and it really highlighted the difference between Dillons customers and Waterstone’s customers. Dillons people were used to having a laugh with us; on the other hand, laughing was pretty much a sacking offence in Waterstone’s towards the end of my time there.
One of the publishers had a whole list of about forty Art Technique manuals: How to Draw Houses, How to Draw Animals, How to Draw Trees, and so forth. Naturally, we only kept the top-selling half-dozen titles in stock, but the rest were available to order. To make life easier for everyone, the publishers very kindly listed their entire range at the back of each book, together with ISBNs and full cataloguing details. (Even Nielsen Bookdata on an internal server wasn’t as fast as that!)
One morning, one of our regulars came to the counter with one of the series in her hand. She plonked it on the counter, face down, with the full list uppermost.
‘I don’t want to buy this book—’ she said. I knew exactly what was coming next, so I jumped in before she could continue.
‘ I don’t blame you – it’s rubbish!’
My other impromptu answers both came early one January. It’s the time of year when shops are flooded with diet books, guides on stopping smoking, lifestyle change books, and all the rest of the New Year’s Resolutions crap which people fall for at that time of year.
One lady came to the counter with a handful of the latest weight-loss books: Lo-Carb Diet; 5/2 Diet; Weight Watchers’ Latest Gimmick; Hip and Thigh Diet; Inch-Loss Plan; Flat Stomach Plan…
‘I think I know which one I want for myself,’ she said. ‘Which one would you recommend for a chap in his forties?’
As if we’d rehearsed it, Jeff and I turned side-on to her, pushed out our bellies, and I said, ‘What do you think?’
Flat Stomach Plan it was!
The other quick and dirty answer also involved a diet book. A lady came to the counter with a book which had had great reviews in the press. She paid for it, and while I was putting it in a bag she asked, ‘Do you know if this one’s any good?’
‘It must be,’ I replied with a wink. ‘You’re eight pounds down already.’