Adventures in Reading

A Bookseller’s No Good, Very Bad Day
September 9, 2008, 12:32 pm
Filed under: thoughtful | Tags: , , ,

Between being an English major and someone who adores literature, I would say I am quite tolerant when it comes to customer’s choices. [1] Recently I read somewhere (the intro to Finnegan’s Wake?) that the contemporary description of “the common reader” is somewhat misleading as traditionally this term defined a group of individuals educated from a common curriculum containing such material as the Greeks, Dante, and the Bible.

But I am mostly a hospitable person that passes little judgment; however, over the past six months or so customers have become increasingly needy and pompous. The vast majority of the customers I deal with have no freakin’ idea what the hell they’re looking for. No title. No author. Goodness knows, no ISBN. The best they can give me is that it was something they saw on Glenn Beck or Oprah. [2] What’s worse is that they’re often looking for is complete garbage someone told them to buy, but not something they really thought about.

And if the common reader’s curriculum includes The Shack and The New Earth, I beg of you: call me the uncommon reader!

With the new school year starting, the past two weeks have simply been atrocious. Parents and students who didn’t bother with summer reading over the summer. Entire school districts that send letters home saying that the bookstore will have their books waiting – without ever telling the bookstore. And currently topping my list, parents who are too consumption oriented and refuse to spend 15-minutes with their kids making paperbag bookcovers.

Yesterday I was helping a woman from one of the nearby universities and I was impressed because she had both the title and the author’s last name. It was for Carson McCullers, one of my favorite authors, and just as I was about to comment on her professor’s good taste the student began: “I had to pick a book and I picked his. He’s supposed to be pretty good. I think I also have to read a biography of his.” As I turned to hand the book I looked at the woman levelly and responded: “Carson McCullers is a woman.” And I walked away.

Was it rude?


Did she deserve it?


(I concede, it’s an easy enough mistake to make.)

But I have finally achieved the point where I’m exhausted of a world aware of every new reality TV show, that hangs onto the last word of every One Tree Hill episode, or that thinks Stephenie Meyer is brilliantly great literature. Do I think I’m better than these people? Most of the time no. But I’m exhausted and after this two year stint at a bookstore I don’t think anyone could blame me if I wanted to bury my head in the world of academia and never leave.

[1] I refuse to call them guests. Whatever PR person came up with that can kiss my pink patoot.

[2] I don’t mind people who can’t recall what they heard on NPR – I prefer they decide to be safe drivers rather than scratching the title of a book down.