I think I like looking for books more than I like reading. I love the smell of new books, the feel of a brand-new spine, and the quiet meditation on ideas and stories. I used to kill time between stand-up sets in Manhattan by walking into any bookstore and wandering for an hour or two just imbibing the good vibe of having so much information around. I say used to because I indulged this practice BEFORE I started working in a bookstore.
I love my job. Let me repeat that because I know some people who are reading this: I LOVE MY JOB AND I LOVE THE BOOKSTORE WHERE I WORK. I ESPECIALLY LOVE MY BOSS! But since working my current job, what I see when I walk into ANY bookstore is not the soothing color scheme or the new, flashy book covers or the wailing specters that seem to haunt every store (we're all seeing those, right?). All I see in bookstores now is rude customers.
Some people who visit retail shops nowadays need the Internet. I don't mean they're looking at their phones the whole time they're in the store (though that is annoying). I mean there are people who have warped their brains by pushing a button and getting something right away so often that now they expect all human interactions to work that way. If you shop in a store and know exactly what you want, I'm guessing it takes roughly 30 seconds to a minute to get what you want and leave the store. Sometimes there are lines (HUGE bummer), but you should know all retailers try their hardest to make sure you're served as efficiently as possible (excluding a not-to-be-named government service). But now I think the total wait time for a rude person has been updated post-Twitter. The average time a rude customer is capable of waiting is 6 seconds.
Here's one interaction I had recently. Alone in the store at 10 a.m., I'm looking at our nice new wooden floors, paging through The Power of Habit, and enjoying a delicious cup of coffee.
By the way, if you didn't read it:
Then the door swings open and a woman comes in, already in a huff:
Woman: Hi. I need that book that won the award.
Me: Uh, the Pulitzer?
Me: Oh, the Booker!
Woman: NO! For kids!
Me: The Caldecott?
Woman: The OTHER ONE!
Me: The Newbery! Yes, I think we have them right up fro—
Woman: I'm all out of time
She pointed to her watch and left the store.
Aside: Since I have these, and I don't want you to stop reading because it's getting a little text-heavy, here are some books that won an "award" that she could have been talking about.
A Visit from the Goon Squad (Pulitzer)
Guns, Germs, and Steel (Pulitzer)
The Giver (Newbery)
A Wrinkle in Time (Newbery)
I'm not saying all patrons of bookstores are like this. By and large, people are sweet. They compliment the store, overshare gossip (the best part of the job), and even ask the postgraduate students opening boxes in the back which books they'd recommend (second best part)! I'm saying there is a specific type of person who seems to think he or she is the only person shopping on any given day, and it's because that person sees the world entirely differently than those who enjoy being in a bookstore.
Bookstore owners, you may think your bookstore is perfect: You've swept and dusted, you've shelved handpicked classics and new releases to make the reader's experience easy and calming, you've even made cupcakes and tea for anyone who wants to hang out and try some. You think your store is perfect. But you're wrong. It's gross and awful and inconvenient and not nearly as good as everywhere else. And now that you're open, the rude patrons are going to tell you so. Here is how a book buyer sees your stupid store:
- Hardcover Best-Seller Front Table: This is a coat rack and coffee holder. Never mind these other books, I just want to flip through the new Eggers, scoff at the price, and leave after spilling a little coffee on whatever book jacket looks the cleanest. No, I don't need a napkin! Pssshhh! I'll just push the coffee off the book with my hand. DUH! Why don't you be a little more conscious about the environment?
- Bookseller at Front Register: An idiot who's wasting my time. NO! I don't want your help. I'm just looking at your books so I can remember them and buy them at another store that's cheaper. Oh, but I just remembered: Do you have that book with the green cover that came out in the 1960s? You know, the one about the guy who could see things? No? Well, you should really carry it. NOOOO! I DON'T WANT TO ORDER IT! I'm saying you should READ that book and KEEP it here so I can see it whenever I come in. Someone will buy it. It's good for your store to keep the right books in stock. UUGHHGGHH, what is wrong with you?? No. I still don't remember the name.
- Cat: My favorite part of the store. The only reason I come in and the only being in the store worth talking to. I can tell you my secrets, can't I, little guy? Now where is your café so I can complain to the Health Board that there shouldn't be a cat here!!!
- Chair: Ahhhh, a nice relaxing spot where I can crinkle up every magazine, then put them back on the shelf... Perhaps I can bring my niece here so she can climb all over this chair and break it.
- Children's Section: Oh! Look how beautiful these Sendak books are. I loved these soooooo much as a child. The only thing to do now is scatter them all over the floor so more people can remember how messy their childhood bedrooms were when these books were scattered on their floors. There. That's better.
- Countertop at Register: A space with no books! I must put my purse on it. You don't mind if I leave a bunch of bags here with you for a while, do you? I just did a lot of shopping, and I can't carry all these items I bought around with me while I run more errands. I will buy this 75-cent postcard and be on my way. I should be back in 10 or 15 days for my things. Thanks!
- Back Office Where Bookseller Is Clearly on His Lunch Break: Here's someone who can help me, even though I'm standing next to another employee on duty. Do you— oh, finish swallowing before you look at me, cretin! Do you have quarters for the meter outside?
- Shelves: I will constantly run around these, doing figure eights for 20 minutes, insist that I'm not looking for anything, then finally ask for something, bring it to the front, and impatiently sigh when I'm not getting rung up immediately.
- Owner: Someone whose business I can save with my book! Yes, that's right. I'm an author. I wrote an instructional book about yoga that can only be done over the mouth of a volcano. It's kind of niche, and I printed the copies by hand on recycled napkins. You know, the environment and all. You should carry my book. I'd love to do weekly events here! I know you don't have a volcano to do the yoga over, but we can improvise. Maybe a small fire pit in the children's section? Let me know!
That's it! Be nice and patient and stay off the Internet, everyone!
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Dan Wilbur is a comedian, a writer, and an avid video game player living in Brooklyn, NY. His writing is featured on CollegeHumor.com, McSweeney’s, and the Onion News Network. Dan is the creator and editor of Better Book Titles. His first humor book, How Not to Read, will be published by Perigee (Penguin) on September 4.
Books mentioned in this post
Dan Wilbur is the author of How Not to Read: Harnessing the Power of a Literature-Free Life