Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops
Though full of heartbreakingly ridiculous customer requests that will make your mouth gape in disbelief, Jen Campbell’s wry book, compiled over years spent as a bookseller, is also packed with Stuff That Is Funny Because It’s True.
Bookshops are great, aren’t they? They may feel a bit like some kind of benign meritocracy, but the minute you walk in and inhale that bookish splendour you’ve passed a gentle hazing simply by having a love of spiny things that flap in your hands. Just by stepping through a jangling door saying ‘open’ you’ve stepped over a threshold, dear wanderer. You’ve earned your place. You’ve come home.
The thing is, you see, you love books. You may, perhaps, know some things. You probably want to know more things. You’re not afraid to meet new people and go to new worlds that never existed before someone made them up. You are not like all those other big sillies over there (point stage left). You… are… infallible.
Except you’re not. Well, you are, of course. You’re indestructible, you are, you’re a literary bloody Tony Stark, but sadly some of the other customers aren’t – especially not that hapless soul poring through (which book shall we bell, tar and feather today? I shall pull a random book out of the hat. Ooh, look… it’s ’50 Shades of Grey’) over there.
The booksellers do not judge, but sometimes by our misconduct we force them to – and you know what happens then? Our sillinesses all get immortalised in an enchantingly splendid book as delicate as a spider’s web on a misty morning, as powerful as a rather good idea.
The gist of the book is this: No-one would ask a Starbucks barista to babysit their toddler for a few hours. No-one would stomp into a Burger King and irately demand to be served a Big Mac or they’ll phone the bloody Government. No-one would walk into Top Shop, grip the desk like a more bloodthirsty species of owl and say “Gimme something in a flattering COLOUR, SPACE BITCH. For a person you’ll never MEET. A person who CANNOT BE DESCRIBED.”
And yet, the people who walk into bookshops do, sometimes, do these things. Harrassed mothers ask if they can use the bookshop as an impromptu creche. Customers ask for Kindles, studiously ignoring the row upon row of big flappy things looking down at them haughtily. Customers ask for book suggestions without giving any details of their tastes or interests whatsoever and feeling a bit miffed that the bookseller should feel the need to ask. They ask for books by Jane Eyre, and they wonder if the ‘literary criticism’ section is a place where books gossip about the other books when their spines are turned. Half the time people aren’t coming in for books at all. They’re coming in for… screwdrivers, or because they for some reason think their friend lives there, or because they nurse the forlorn hope that the bookshop may be able to sell them a tiny hat*.
It must be fun, being a bookseller. Books are so eclectic and inspiring that working in a place where they’re sold must sometimes feel like being transported to Where The Wild Things Are. At the same time, such a profession must seem very occasionally rather daunting.
This is a lovely book, you know. If we didn’t make that clear, it’s a lovely book. Full of charming illustrations, and eccentric madnesses that, as fan Neil Gaiman put it, are “so funny. So sad… Read it and sigh.”
In a way, the catalogue of unfortunate exchanges in ‘Weird Things People Say In Bookshops’ is a testament to the power that books have in our lives, and a huge compliment to the restorative atmosphere we have come to expect from the places in which they are sold. We see booksellers as oracles and bookshops as havens from the stormy seas that are, oh, I don’t know, Paying The Bills or Edgeware Bloody Road…
They’re good, aren’t they, books? As books go, this is a good one too.
You know the drill. Buy Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell. You won’t regret it.
*I always, always nurse the forlorn hope that a bookshop might be able to sell me a tiny hat. I just have the good sense not to ask.
Buy Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell
Tagged in: non-fiction