Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Can’t see the Books for the Trees: A bookstore experience

I’m hanging out in a bookstore the other day, waiting on a car swap when I happened to overhear a cell phone conversation going on a couple sections over. A woman with serious cell phone voice* was talking to her daughter.

“What table was it on?”

She asked this about three times as she circled some display tables.

“I don’t see it, what was it called again?”

More circling of the tables before wandering into the children’s section.

“Honey, I don’t see any book by that title.”

Back when I was bookselling this would have been my cue to pop over and ask if she needed help finding anything, but as I was no longer bookselling I just continued to eavesdrop as it was obvious that the daughter WANTED THIS BOOK (yes, the caps were necessary).

“Honey, I just don’t see a book called Twilight anywhere. Are you sure that’s the title?”

Suddenly it was all becoming clear—but even clearer then the daughter’s need to read the book all of her friends had was the huge display of Stephanie Meyer’s books on one of the tables the woman had looked at. I’m talking gigantic, with the books in a water fall display down over the side of the table to the floor with Twilight in both paperback editions playing a central part.

“I just don’t see it. You’re going to have to come to the store with me next time and we’ll look then.”

Call it latent bookselling syndrome or whatever, but I couldn’t take it anymore. I grabbed a copy of the trade sized Twilight** off the table and walked over to where the woman was still talking.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt, but I think you’re looking for this.” I held it out to her in a manner—now that I think of it—reminiscent of the book’s cover with its apple. As I walked away I heard her tell her daughter:

“Some girl heard us talking and just found it for me.”

She also handed you the more expensive copy, lady, but bookstores can use all the up-sells they can get right now.

*Cell Phone Voice: the phenomenon where cell phones users voice automatically becomes three decibels louder when they are having a conversation on their phone. Note: Studies have shown that Cell Phone Voice is not necessarily a reflection of the quality of reception the user is experiencing.

**I’m anti Movie Tie in (MTI) covers as for the most part they are ugly. The Twilight MTI cover makes me think that Robert Pattinson is contemplating eating my face.


KatG said...

The book is blue, dammit it!

Jolie said...

The Twilight MTI cover makes me think that Robert Pattinson is contemplating eating my face.

Well, there are worse fates! (I hate MTI covers too, though.)

Leigh (Modern Mommy) said...

LOL! Thank you for helping a poor girl get her Twilight fix, though! And I agree abt the MTI covers too. The apple cover has much more meaning.

Lori Devoti said...

I hate movie tie in covers too! Or TV tie ins. I actually didn't buy a book last week (Tanya Huff) because it had a hideous TV tie in cover. Sick I know, but I couldn't get past it. I wanted the BOOK! Not the book sold because of the short-lived TV show. I'm hoping there are still copies in the world without that cover.
Things like this make me worry about myself, so it's nice to hear others mention it...

Kel-Bell said...

Any book that starts a craze with the kiddies is alright by me.

(And good move handing her the expensive copy.)

I like your style.

lady t said...

I had a similar experience just yesterday-I was in a B&N and a woman went up to the cashier,asking for a books about "Bees." After a moment,it became clear that she was looking for The Secret Life of Bees,which was displayed near the entrance with a number of other books that had movie tie-in covers.

The Bee seeking woman wasn't alone,she was attending to a person in a wheelchair(who appeared to be paraplegic,judging by the way she was positioned).

The register clerk told her to go to the Customer Service counter,which is located in the middle of the store. It's not bad for regular walking around but tricky for someone conveying another person thru the various display tables and large racks of stuff.

I grabbed up a copy of the book and went over to the Bee woman,before she had to make that trip. She was pleased to get it so quickly and paid for it right away.

As a former book seller myself,I can understand if the cashier wasn't allowed to leave her station to offer some hands on assistance but considering that this lady had a wheelchair bound person to attend to,I don't see why the clerk didn't tell her that the book was right up front there.

Perhaps the clerk didn't know,but I still don't see how she could not know that-the book's been a big bestseller for awhile,plus the movie only came out a few weeks ago!

See what you started here,Linsey? Folks will be just helping out strangers all over the place:) Oh,and yes,I did give her the dreaded MTI cover edition(I personally don't mind those)-the words are still the same,right?:)

Terry Weyna said...

I do that with people in bookstores all the time. I don't know what it is about me; I've never worked in a bookstore. I just look like I know about books, somehow (which is actually true, I do know about books, but how does my demeanor convey that?).

Every now and then I can annoy the heck out of an information person, though. In Powell's City of Books the other day (in my estimation, the best bookstore in the country), I was looking for The Adventures of Amir Hamza, but couldn't remember the name of the book for the life of me. All I could remember was "Amir," and I thought it was "The Tales of Amir [Somebody]." The person at the desk, not surprisingly, couldn't find it on her computer, even when I helpfully added that it was either Modern Library or Library of America.

After asking, and not getting, I trotted myself over to the Middle Eastern section of the bookstore and found it. Which is what I should have done in the first place. And what, I suppose, the person at the information desk should have done, too.

Michael A. Gonzales said...

i hope she said "thank you," but i doubt it.

jmcc said...

I'm a bookseller - these situations are a source of triumph and anxiety for me: I love being able to find the book a person is looking for, but I HATE the situation of over-hearing cellphone conversations and how to approach the person. A conversation occurring between people in front of me - I'll politely intercede, but I definitely have a mental hang-up (wishing the cellphone user would hang-up!) when it comes to phone conversations.

Kudos on the up-sale.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Okay, so this is why indie bookstores are a Good Thing and why unspecialized bookstore are Not. I can't tell you how many times I've been browsing in the YA section and hear someone wanting for TWILIGHT or "something like Vampire Academy" or "his name was John Green or something" and put a book in their hands. The book business want a shot in the arm? Hire some people who know how to give shots!

end rant. deep sigh.

And yes, the movie tie in covers are travesties in their own right.

The Bookseller said...

Being a bookseller, I have to defend my fellow workers. In an "un-specialized" bookstore such as the one I work in, there are different people who take care of different sections.

If you ask someone in the children's department about a science fiction adult book, they most likely are not going to know it. If you ask someone in working in the Adult part of the store about a teen or childrens book they probably won't know. In an extreme example, it's like asking a foot doctor why you have shoulder problems...Just because they both practice medicine doesn't mean they know everything.

Betty said...

Great article. I had to laugh about your comment regarding people on cell phones talking 3X true...why is this? I was recently looking for an interesting coffee table book called "PersonaliTrees" and could hardly communicate with the the bookstore clerk because of a person on a cell phone talking so LOUD. The store clerk handled it really well and we found my book. By the way it's a book of photographed trees that exhibit human kids really enjoy looking through it.