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The Art Of Bookselling

I’m about to break my number one rule of blogging. That’s right, I’m going to post about work.
I would like to take a moment and discuss the Art of Bookselling. Go ahead and laugh, but it truly is a thing of beauty when done correctly. Pretend, for a moment, that you are my average customer.
You: “Hello. I’m looking for a book.”
{endless pause}
Me: “Well, you’ve come to the right place. Which book do you need?”
You: “Um, I’m not sure of the title, but I think it’s about history. I don’t know who wrote it.”
Me: “What kind of history? U.S.? World? Ancient? Military? British?”
Me {to myself}: “Throw me a friggin’ bone, here.”
You: Um, uh, I, uh, think it’s about leadership. Maybe it’s not history. Maybe it’s business.
Me: Could it be The Art of War?
You: That’s it!
Keep in mind, that during this whole, rather painful, exchange, I have led you directly to the book, which is now in your hand. Bookselling requires a whole lot of intuition. At any given moment, there are over 100,000 books on the shelf of your average superstore. That’s like finding a needle in a haystack when the Friendly Consumer doesn’t know jack about what he/she needs. And yet, day after day, Booksellers instinctively know what it is you want. You say you say it on TV? Why, you’re looking for What Should I Do With My Life!!!! You heard a funny guy on NPR? You want David Sedaris.
Bookselling also bears remarkable similarities to bartending. We, your Friendly Neighborhood Booksellers, suddenly become your best friend. Sure, we know it’s embarrasing when you need a book on improving your sex life, but I promise it’s not the first time we’ve been asked that question. You were just diagnosed with a random, but eminently curable, disease? I don’t need the details, I swear, but I’m more than happy to find your book. You just found out you’re pregnant? Congratulations! Here’s a baby name book. But whatever you do, please, please, please do not tell us your life story. I don’t really want to know the gory details of your cousin Janie’s emergency C-Section.
I’ve been doing this job for so long that I know where each and every title in my store can be found. I’m not exaggerating. I don’t even have to look most of them up anymore. However, as a plea for all Booksellers everywhere, I implore you: Do not come into a bookstore asking for something that does not exist. We are not the library. We will not have anything on the political and social history of Paraguay. Yes, I know that your 25-page paper is due tomorrow morning, but you waited until 10:30 the night before.
There is one thing that is always acceptable in the bookstore, and that is your reverent awe of the Bookseller when we walk you straight to the book without ever looking it up, even though you butchered the title. We like your praise. We like your respect for our vast book knowledge. We’ve worked very hard to attain this level of literary awareness, and it makes our day when you acknowledge our brilliance. I recognize that this sounds a little (okay, a lot) self-indulgent and conceited; however, we do have our own saint, so that allows us a bit of a sense of entitlement.
I really would never work in any other branch of retail. For the most part, my customers are extremely intelligent (even those who have no idea what they’re looking for). It’s just that some days—like today—I unearthed several needles in haystacks, and I felt that Booksellers everywhere deserved a little appreciation. So, please, the next time you wander into a bookstore, take a moment and observe us in action. We’ll impress you.

6 Responses to “The Art Of Bookselling”

  1. Kevin Says:

    Well said. They never have any trouble helping me find Stuff, FHM, or Car & Driver and other great books!

  2. Camille Says:

    Girl! You definitely picked the right field for your career. I cannot believe you knew what that person wanted. Very Impressive!!!!

  3. Brian Says:

    One day, back in my bookstore days, a customer asked me for a book and knew the two identifying properties. 1) It was on TV. 2) It was blue. I did not find that book. I later wondered if that person wanted a book of used-car prices, but I don’t think so. I definately did not pick the right “career”, so I found employment elsewhere soon after. 🙂

  4. merrin Says:

    I remember when people wanted “that green book” (The Celestine Prophecy) and “the pink book” (Simple Abundance).

  5. merrin Says:

    And by the way, Brian, when are you two gonna get a blog?

  6. Brian Says:

    I don’t think anybody wants to read about me. Jennifer, maybe, but not me. I did have a little webpage for school at
    but I don’t think anyone beyond my school project supervisor would be interested in that one.




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