Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Ah, Bookstores...

Chain bookstores are a favourite whipping boy for some authors and readers with over-developed opinions of themselves and, perhaps not surprisngly, small struggling indy bookstores.

But I've spent enough time in bookstores, new and used, small and large, miniscule and gargantuan, to realize not all indies are pure gold. Especially the ones that smell of old cat pee and smug pretension.

Let's face it: not all bookstore employees are English majors. Now get over it.

In big chains, morons can obviously still slip through the hiring filters, but they seldom last. In small indies, however, there often aren't any filters at all -- they just hire relatives and friends and friends of friends. Who may not exactly be candidates for Mensa either.

Plus they linger there forever. After all, how do you fire your sister-in-law?

Mind you, having worked the other side of the counter, I now realize the shocking truth.

You think some bookstore employees are dumb?

You should see some of the customers.

"Hi, where's that book they made that movie from at?"
"What movie?"
"I forget the title but it has that guy in it, everyone's talking about it."
"That guy?"
"Yeah, he was also in that other movie with that other guy, you know, the one that went out with that girl from the TV show?"
"That girl? Marlo Thomas?"
"Who? No, man, that girl on FRIENDS."
"She's in the movie?"
"No, but the same guy she was going out with was in that other movie? Some guys are chasing him? In some big city, I think it's New York or maybe LA?"
"And you don't remember the title?"
"Well, it was on sale the last time I was here. You must have moved it."
"When was this?"
"I dunno. Around the holidays? Don't you keep records? "
"Sorry, I really don't remember."
"You must be new here."
"I've worked here three years. Do you remember the author of the book?"
"No, but they made a movie from it."
"You don't remember anything else?"
"It's got yellow on the cover."
"Sorry, sir, that doesn't help much."
"Well, you're not being very helpful. I want to talk to the manager."

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Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

In the heyday of Borders, when it was a single store in Ann Arbor and exciting beyond belief, the clerks knew more about books than anyone on the planet. Legend had it that Ph.D. qualifying exams were used as entry. Oh, how I loved that store.

1:18 PM, July 09, 2008  
Blogger MysterLynch said...

I think you are correct. I have left more than one indie store because the employee on duty was either unhelpful or snooty.

Most people that work in book stores, chain or indie, do so because they want to be around books.

I support my local independant stores, but I also head to B&N as well.

5:06 PM, July 09, 2008  
Blogger Glen Davis said...

I've been on both sides of the counter myself. Once forgot the title and author of a book that I wanted, then remembered it after I left the store. Now I write them down.

9:44 PM, July 09, 2008  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

One thing I've noticed: the more convinced a customer is that he or she knows the title of the book or movie or CD they want (and the obnoxious they are about it), the more likely it is that they're wrong.

The level of rudeness in the Antelope Valley is astounding. Cellphones were bad enough, but with California's new handheld-only-while-driving law now in effect, we'll be getting hands-free rudeness 24/7. I've already been shushed by a couple of people standing at my cash.

9:54 AM, July 10, 2008  
Blogger Guillaume said...

So you got a bad experience recently? The quality of staff in indie bookstores varies widely,but even in big chains it can be sometimes surprisingly low. I have never been impressed by the service I got at Archambault, while I don't think I ever had to complaint about the service I received on any of the many Mont-Royal Avenue used bookstores. Employees and owners were not always friendly (some can be incredibly arrogant), but they all knew their job.

Kevin, when you go back to Montreal, you should go to Olivieri (on Côte-des-Neiges, close to the Université de Montréal). It is an academic bookstore, but it is by far the best French bookstore in Montreal. I don't know about their English section, but last time I went they had a really nice crime fiction section. And the staff is both competent and nice. Oh, and they had a café with decent sandwiches.

3:43 AM, July 11, 2008  
Blogger Marian Allen said...

My youngest daughter works in a Borders, and Kevin is right on all counts--the clerks who know nothing about books and don't care don't last long, and some customers are both rude and madly ignorant.

She had one customer come in demanding "the original version of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK in the original English". My daughter couldn't convince her that the ORIGINAL wasn't IN English....

We're lucky in having a couple of excellent indie bookstores around here: Carmichael's in Louisville and Destinations in New Albany.

What's your take on specifically genre bookstores? Would you say that clerks/customers of, say, all-mystery or all-spec-fic bookstores are more savvy about the stock?

7:42 AM, July 31, 2008  

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