Monday, November 20, 2006

Bought It From The Guy In The Van In The Parking Lot

Stolen from Shelf Awareness which itself stole from yesterday's New York Times Book Review:


The Times polling department does not, alas, compile a 'most stolen books' list. But if it did, anecdotal evidence suggests that many works by the writers talked about in this issue (especially Charles Bukowski) would be on it somewhere, along with the Bible and books about finding jobs. What kinds of things are sticky-fingered readers removing from stores in late 2006? George S. Leibson, an owner of Coliseum Books in Manhattan [which is closing later this year], cites cookbooks and expensive art books, as well as books about sex. ('Some people are just too embarrassed to buy those.') Paul Ingram, the buyer for Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City, observes that while science fiction is often said to vanish ('a lot of people who like it are 13 and have no money'), the sections with the most shrinkage in his store are simply those farthest from the cash register."At a major independent bookstore in Seattle, the senior buyer said graphic novels, as well as books about the Beats and tattoos, disappear pretty often. He added, interestingly, that the enigmatic novels of the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami have begun to disappear at a fast clip. His explanation: 'In his own way, Murakami is a subversive writer with an outlaw sensibility. His characters have this Everyman thing going on, but they are also working against the grain.' "

What amazes me is how many people steal books to scam you, not because they might be looking for spiritual enlightenment (the Bible) or because they can’t afford their reading material of choice (Scifi/Fantasy/Manga usually) due to their age and inability to get a job. “Here you go, Mr. or Ms. Bookseller. Here’s the book that I just stole off your shelf that I will now attempt to return for cash or credit. Pay no attention to my lack of receipt.”

Of course, the people who are just stealing the books for their own edification tend to not really think about it as stealing since bookstores are practically libraries, right? You would not believe the number of people who don’t seem to understand the differences between the two. I’ve had several people this year—not high, and not drunk—ask if they could check a book out from us. “Can’t I just pay a small fee and return the book for my money when I’m done?”

Sure you can pay a fee—the price of the book—but good luck getting that back.

The other day I had ask me, “Can my wife return a book she bought here?”

Wise, after three years, to the ways the human mind can bend straight forward information I asked him why she would want to return it.

“Because she’s read it.”

“As in already read it?”

“No, she’s just finished with the book and she wants to return it for another.”

I referred him to the library.

I’m fine with taking a book back if you get part way in and realize you’ve read it before or that it is just not your cuppa (of course it still has to be in salable condition), but for the love of all that is literature! I am not a library!

And no, you cannot get around that by sitting on floor and attempting to read the entirety of a Harry Potter while on my premises.

People amaze me.


Stephen D. Rogers said...

I recently purchased a book at an airport bookstore and was surprised to receive a bookmark urging me to return the book when I was done for store credit.

Frankly, when I buy a book, I buy it for life.

lady t said...

I had once had a woman trying to return some children's books and one of them was a library book! I had to show her the stamp to prove it and she fortunately backed down.

Also had a lady who would take a book either to the back of the store or in an aisle and read several chapters before putting it back on the shelf. I did have to speak to her about it once because she kept bending up the paperback spines so badly that the copies looked like used. She took it well,,not!

Wendy said...

It cuts both ways. You'd be amazed how many people come into libraries and want to "buy" our books. "But, but - I really want to keep it forever and it's a really old book!" In which case I refer them to a local used bookstore who will special order.

Of course, in actuality, they merely check out (or steal) the library copy and never bother to return it.

Susan Adrian said...


Which brings up another sticky question: how do you feel about parents reading books to their kids in your store?

I admit that when we go to a big bookstore we usually spend quite a bit of time just reading different books, certainly with no intention to buy all of them. We often buy some, but we can read 6 or 7 in the store.

It seems to me that the bigger stores actually encourage this behavior, with reading tables and couches and such in kids' sections...and I've never been upbraided by a clerk. But do you guys hate it?

Robin Brande said...

I always wondered about those people who sit down in the Barnes & Noble cafe with a magazine or book to read while sipping their coffee. You know they haven't bought it because they leave it behind on the table. What are they thinking? It's just so selfish.

I don't want to buy a book or magazine you've already put your scummy hands on, sir or ma'am. I buy new because I like the rights of first ownership, including having my fingerprints be the first ones on it.

One of my favorite Seinfeld episodes is the one where George has to buy the book he took into the bathroom of the book store. 'Bout time someone cracked down.

Karen W. said...

I'm a bookseller, and just recently, I had a guy ask if he could use the bathroom and he wanted to take two books in with him to read while he was in there! He seemed really surprised when I told him he couldn't do that... The stories I could tell after 7 years in retail! Sigh...

pacatrue said...

I think the parents reading to children thing should work out pretty well. It's not that uncommon for me to turn my back for a minute when my 3 year old has a pop up book only to discover, upon re-focusing my attention, that one of Thomas' wheels is no longer attached to the book. I guess it's ours now!

quiche said...

I wish for more customers like y'all. Many times I've picked up coffee-stained
magazines and books. My peeve is people bringing back test books (ACT, SAT) after the test and those trying to get full price for remainder books.

web said...

I'm kind of stunned by people who report that they took a book back to the bookstore because it just sucked. When did that become okay?

quiche said...

I had a lady do that today; it was a book she read before and didn't like it then. I'm OK with that, as long as the customer is honest, the book is in brand new condition and they are returning it in a reasonable amount of time (30 days or less).

Anonymous said...

I recently had a woman ask "If I give this to my son in New Jersey and he already has it, can he return it to a store down there?"
Ummm...what?? We're a small independent store, not a big chain.
Can I buy this pair of jeans at JC Penney and return them to Old Navy? No? Why not??

BuffySquirrel said...

Apparently, in 1996 Terry Pratchett was adjudged Britain's most shoplifted author. He just said so on the tv...

Dalia said...

If chains don't want people reading their books they shouldn't put sofas and couches in between shelves and dedicated areas.

If they don't want people to read their books while sipping coffee, they should make the coffee area a 'no-unpaid-book' zone.

The customer is only taking the bookstore up on its offer to read and enjoy. It's not to say you have every single customer coming in, cracking spines and leaving brownie bits inside all of the pristine books.

Bonnie said...

My personal favourite back when I worked in a bookstore was: "Do you have a photocopier? Oh? No? Well, could I just run across the plaza and bring this right back?"

I heard it more than once.

ebbye said...

pwople amaze me too!
I have a box of $1 books which have been emptied on quite a few occassions - come on! They're cheap
My worst is people who take a gorgeous book off the shelf and claim it came from the $1 box. I hate people trying to rip off and steal from small business owners; especially ones like me who struggle but still offer discounts and keep prices fair.
I read to kids in the shop and parents sit at the table and read to their kids.
The stories I could tell would take pages, vomiting over books/toys and then leaving, vomiting in the shop, peeing, filling up an entire canvas bag of books from the back - where I can't see and freaking out when stopped him - for shame all the people who do these things!

Jackie said...

haha! i just stumbled onto your blog and it's cracking me up. i worked at a certain ginormous evil book retailer for four years, and oh how i wish i would have been allowed to refer someone to the library. keep kvetching. it's amazing.