Sunday, December 11, 2005

You can't judge a book...

So I have to admit that I'm probably one of the things that is wrong with America today. I do, in fact, work at a big bad chain store which routinely puts shops around the corner out of business in a cruel and heartless fashion. Although what probably makes me a worse person is the fact that this doesn't bother me so much because I like the store I work at. *ducks behind a chair to avoid projectile missiles from outraged protesters*

But working at a bookstore gives me some great experiences in seeing the way people deal with books. Most people that I talk to, of course, are not the drooling, avid and voracious reader types, such as myself, who know what they want and where to find it, or else just want to sit there and bask in the glory of all those books, waiting for one to leap off the shelves in a fit of serendipity and fall into their outstretched arms.

The people I talk to tend to be a little less, shall we say, single-minded in their quest for all things written. Some of them appear to never have been in a bookstore before, and I must admit that there have been a few that I harbored doubts of their ever having been this close to a book in their lives. (Disclaimer: they are all intelligent and well-meaning people and I do not mean to criticize the way anybody does their book shopping. Whichever way you prefer is, in fact, the correct way.)

They wander up to the information desk and kind of squint into the air in a questioning manner, their gaze resting somewhere behind and above my right shoulder, before they say, "There's this book I want, but I don't know the author...." Of course, this isn't usually a problem with our handy-dandy computer system, provided of course that our system is in a good and informative mood that day and I don't have to resort to base trickery to fool it into telling me what I want to know. The problem comes if it's a weird title that they don't know how to spell, or if tricky homonyms come into play. I can't tell you how many times I have searched for The Tale of someone or other only to find out that the title is not referring to a story or anecdote but is, in fact, alluding to a portion of posterior anatomy that most humans do not possess.

What gets really good are the people who don't know the author OR the title, but have some vague idea about the plot and know that "the cover was blue," or at least that it was blue when they read it as a kindergartener back in 1958. Like the girl who wanted the book about a mouse that begins with D. (This actually turned out not to be so much of a problem, as it is the Newberry-award winning "The Tail of Despereaux" -- another of those ones! -- which I had just finished reading. But this is the exception.)

The weirdest experience I've had so far happened the other day, five minutes before I was scheduled to get off work (of course). A man came and told me, "I bought the new Betty Crocker cookbook for my wife but it's not the whole cookbook. How do I get the complete version?" Huh? Further questioning elicited the information that his mother had had the same cookbook but it was much thicker. How could he get a copy of that cookbook? I took him back to the cookbook section (where I discovered that he actually had purchased the Better Homes and Gardens book, not the Betty Crocker; he never quite seemed to grasp this...) and showed him the versions we had.

No good. "Yes, that's the one I bought my wife and it's not the complete version." Well, I could look it up in the system and see if there were any different, newer, longer versions. Would he like that? Yes, he would. So I looked it up and lo and behold, those were the only versions. (I had figured as much; if there was a "complete" one we would probably have carried it.) I even found the "classic 1953 version," which turned out to be a good 200 pages shorter than the new ones, and tried to explain to him that the thickness could be a difference in print size, the amount of pictures, the paper used or the binding. (My vote goes with the latter; apparently his mother's was in book form while the one he got for his wife was the three-ring binder kind.) No good. He didn't listen or didn't understand or didn't care.

This meant that we ended up going back to the cookbook section (which covers nearly an entire wall of our store) and he had me show him nearly every cookbook we carry so he could compare thicknesses and decide which one he wanted. Luckily, he decided before too long that he didn't require my assistance anymore so I didn't have to go through the whole wall. (And I was only 15 minutes late getting off work, rather than an hour.) When I left, he was favoring the American Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, which is rather hefty.

I guess the moral of the story is that while you shouldn't judge a book by its cover (especially since it's probably not blue anymore after 47 years), judging it by the width of the spine is just fine.


Willie said...
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CarpeDM said...

The big bad chain store that you work at is my favorite book store. Which is probably very wrong of me and I'm one of the things wrong with America as well. Dang it.

I love the people at the information counter. They were able to find Jasper Ffordes The Eyre Affair for me when I said to them "There's this book. It's about this woman who goes into Jane Eyre. I think I saw it last year." That series is one of my favorites now. Never would have discovered it without them.

I've also had a guy walk through the store with me pointing out different books he thought I would enjoy.

I was just talking about a poem I once wrote entitled "On being in a bookstore." I could spend hours there. My mother used to use the library to "babysit" me when she had to work on Saturdays.