There was a delightful article in the Globe and mail that brought a distinct smile to my face, The writer was expounding about the trials and joys of working in a book shop and I'd swear she has the same customers that we have!! The article reminded me of customers we have served over the years and how I have seen many of them grow as well as realise how much I have grown with them.
Being a used book store we encounter a huge variety of customers and of course requests are not just for the books off the top ten lists but for many out of print books with definitive covers or translators. The one thing that all the customers have in common is the conclusion that all our staff have read every book in the shop and that we also know every title and author of every book ever published since Caxton invented the press!
Let me put the record straight, we are all avid readers, we couldn't work in a bookstore if we weren't, but come on, seriously, no way can we have read every book in the store! So why do people keep asking us " What's this book about'? or "Is this a good book"? or even " Have I read this book"? Don't get me wrong, as the books come in we do our best to be familiar with the title, the author and the content but the look of incredulity we get when we answer with 'I don't know, I haven't read it' and then have to explain yet again that we cannot possibly have read every book in the shop, makes us want to rush for our crystal ball!
In all truth, the customers are the researchers, we rely on them to tell us about the book when they bring it in, from their comments we are able to make recommendations or select books comparable to an author they like and the majority of the time we get it right! So be patient with us when we don't know and author or a title or even the content of a book because as we research it for you we grow in our knowledge base just as you do! Other than that you'll have to wait for us to get the crystal ball warmed up!
Earlier this week a question was posed on our Facebook page if the comments within George Orwell's Bookshop memories ( www.orwell.ru ) still applied today. Let me tell you nothing much has changed!
Orwell wrote this article in 1936 and his experience in a second hand book shop is in no way unique! However, I think that has to be applied to retail in general and not just the bookshop. It is true that because we deal in used books there are a percentage of people out there who tend to thing we are a garage sale and therefore they have to haggle over the prices despite the fact that we are obviously a business with overheads.
We get the same customers as does the local grocery store, or restaurant though I think there are some differences in attitude. There seems to be a common belief that because we work there we have read every book in the shop (as well as every book that has ever been published!) and like Orwell there is a tendency to read less. So their question is usually "What is this book about?" or "Is this a good book?", One of the favourites is "I'm looking for a book" (well you are in the right place) "Can you suggest a book I'll like?" (at this point we turn into psychoanalysts) amazingly we are usually able to find something to suit their individual tastes. We do get the customer who has been told about a book from a friend and doesn't know the title, author or even if it is fiction or non-fiction, but 'It's a blue book about so big' ( at this point we become detectives!) and again amazingly we can very often come up with the book! (Yes our staff are that good!).
Orwell was right about a bookshop being the one place where people can hang out for a length of time and not buy anything and a lot of work is done answering questions, doing research and assisting customers without a sale taking place. Regardless, the bookshop is a community and more often or not a meeting of like minds so discussions take place every day that can range from the merits of an author or a philosophical debate on the beliefs of Kierkergard or Jung or even how to care for a sick animal! We are a community that cares in more ways than one, we get to know our customers, we know their likes and dislikes, we know if they have been ill or if they have been on a vacation and I think that makes us unique in the retail world.
So although the range of customers has not changed much since Orwell's day, and the work load of hauling boxes of books and dusting and caring for them can be exhausting, I love my job, I love the customers and I still love the feel and smell of a book and I know I speak for the rest of the staff too!