When I was young, my family owned a small-town bookstore. It was at the center of town, and was not only a favorite spot for people to pick up their periodicals and bestsellers, but was as well the best source of literary novels and authors which students in the local schools and colleges were being asked to read for class. We lived in a community which was fairly literate, but even so, we still had many odd encounters and requests for books that were strange and peculiar. So is it any wonder that when I encountered Jen Campbell’s book Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores that I felt an immediate sense of kinship, and laughed my fool head off while reading from cover to cover?
Just to give you a few examples, under the chapter “Literary Pursuits,” Jen lists this gem: “Where’s your true fiction section?” Or this one: “This Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter book has to be the most historically accurate fiction book I’ve read.” Under “What Was That Title Again?” Jen quotes this: “I’m looking for some books on my kid’s summer reading list. Do you have Tequila Mockingbird?” Or, “Do you have Fiddler on a Hot Tin Roof?” Under “Parents and Kids”: “Customer: These books are really stupid, aren’t they? Bookseller: Which ones? Customer: You know, the ones where animals, such as cats and mice, are best friends. Bookseller: I suppose they’re not very realistic, but then that’s fiction. Customer: They’re more than unrealistic; they’re really stupid. Bookseller: Well, writers use that kind of thing to teach kids about accepting people different to themselves, you know? Customer: Yeah, well, books shouldn’t pretend that different people get on like that, and that everything is “la de da” and wonderful, should they? Kids should learn that life’s a bitch, and the sooner the better.” Under “You Want What?”: “Customer: Didn’t this place used to be a camera store? Bookseller: Yes, it did, but we bought the place a year ago. Customer: And now you’re a… Bookseller: …a bookstore. Customer: Right. Yes. So, where do you keep the cameras?” Under “Customers Behaving Badly”: “Customer: I’d like a refund on this book please. Bookseller: What seems to be the problem? Customer: I barely touched it. It’s ridiculous! Bookseller: What do you mean? Customer: I mean all I did was drop it in the bath by accident. And now, I mean, just look at it: the thing’s unreadable!” Under “Isn’t It Obvious?”: Customer: Excuse me, do you have any signed copies of Shakespeare plays? Bookseller: Er…do you mean signed by the people who performed the play? Customer: No, I mean signed by William Shakespeare. Bookseller: …” Under “Books for Kindling”: Customer: Do you guys sell used e-books? Bookseller (laughing): No… Customer (angrily): Why not?” Under “The Adult Section”: “Customer: Hi, do you have that sperm cookbook? Bookseller: No. Customer: That’s a shame. I really wanted to try it. Have you tried it? Bookseller: I have not.” Under “Higher Powers”: “Customer: Do you have a book that interprets life? Bookseller: I’m not sure I know what you mean. Customer: Well, I was out hiking the other day, and I saw a wolf. I want to know what that meant.” Under “Out of Print: “Customer: What kind of bookstore is this? Bookseller: We’re an antiquarian bookstore. Customer: Oh, so you sell books about fish.” And these I’ve blurbed about are only the beginning: for the small price of $15.00 in the U.S. (in Canada it’s $16.00), you can read many, many more and longer exchanges, even more fraught with those sources of constant comedy and commiseration, human intellectual frailty and sometimes sheer thoughtlessness.
To give a bit about the history of this book, here’s Jen Campbell (a native of the U.K. where she currently works in a bookstore). In the introduction about her work at the bookstore Ripping Yarns in London (the bookstore named after Monty Pythoners Terry Jones and Michael Palin), she says: “After a particularly strange day about a year ago in which I was asked if books were edible, I started putting some choice ‘Weird Things Customers Say…’ quotes up on my blog (jen-campbell.blogspot.com). The intent wasn’t to mock or antagonize our customers. Far from it. Most of the people I meet everyday are amazing, an integral part of our north London neighborhood and the lifeblood of our business in a tough time for booksellers. But, as anyone who works in retail probably knows, there are some encounters that simply leave you speechless.”
Other bookstores and book fiends quoted Jen Campbell on Twitter, Neil Gaiman blogged about them, and Jen was finally asked to publish a book of them by a book publishing company in the U.K. Booksellers from many different states of the union and provinces in Canada joined in the fun and contributed their favorite quotes to the book, and their stores and general locations are identified (though no individuals are named) in the coda of each quote. For a great light read and a real hoot of an experience with how one may oneself come across to strangers on days when one isn’t at one’s best, perhaps, you could do a lot worse than to pick up this book for yourself and your friends. One thing’s for sure: you can’t imagine many people trying to return this one!