Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops (2012) by Jen Campbell

Some years ago I worked in a bookshop for a few months and remember how many extremely funny things I’ve heard there. People were looking for the most amazing things. Not always books. Unfortunately I don’t remember many anecdotes, I just remember that I laughed or chuckled quite a bit. Lucky for us, Jen Campbell’s memory is still intact and she wrote down the funniest things she heard or overheard people say or ask in the bookshop she worked in. Apart from those stories she contributed herself, there are numerous examples from other bookshops as well.

I’m glad I downloaded Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops on the kindle as it has only 100 pages and can be read in little more than an hour or two. Today I saw it in a bookshop and the way it is presented, with the very colorful cover and the drawings between the episodes (you have those in the e-book as well), I thought that this is one of those books which make a nice present.

Many of the examples are funny because the people asking or saying things don’t know a lot about literature. Clearly someone wondering whether Jane Eyre has written other novels isn’t entirely familiar with the Brontës. While we laugh about such things, we occasionally may also feel somewhat unkind. But there are many other examples which people probably would also ask in other types of shops and which do not reveal some possible cultural gap but sheer silliness or cheekiness like the mother asking whether it is ok that her children are climbing the book shelves.

Since I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone who loves this type of anecdotes but to still give you an idea , I’ll only quote a few at random, leaving out the funniest or most surprising.

Customer: “Do you have a copy of Nineteen Eighty Six?

Bookseller: Nineteen Eighty Six?

Customer: Yeah, Orwell.

Bookseller: Oh – Nineteen Eighty Four.

Customer: No, I’m sure it’s Nineteen Eighty Six; I’ve always remembered it because it is the year I was born.

Bookseller: ………..

(Customer is reading a book from the shelf, pauses and folds the top of one of the pages over, then puts it back on the shelf)

Bookseller: Excuse me, what are you doing?

Customer: I was just reading the first chapter of this book, but I’m going to be late meeting a friend for lunch. So, I’m just marking it and I’ll finish reading it when I stop by tomorrow.

Customer: There was a book in the eighties that I loved…but I can’t remember the title.

Bookseller: Can you remember anything about it?

Customer: I think it was called 360 fairy tales.

Bookseller (searches on British library catalogue): Nothing under that name sorry.

Customer. I might have got the number wrong. Could you just type in fairy tales and see what comes up?

Bookseller: …. That could take a while.

I remember one thing I’ve overheard once in a book shop which struck me as very funny. I was standing there browsing some novel or other when I noticed one of the walls was decorated with Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It was  the book’s 50th anniversary. Next to me a guy talking to someone spotted the books on the wall as well and shouted really loud “Oh, boy, what a great idea, this Capote guy has actually written a book about that song … “. Yeah, well…

All in all Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops is a slim book but many of the anecdotes which capture human ignorance and folly are really hilarious.

Have you heard people say funny things in book shops?

49 thoughts on “Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops (2012) by Jen Campbell

    • It was fun, some were really “Oh, my, I can’t believe it” but I couldn’t quote it would be unfair to the author. I can imagine that it’s very similar in a library. 🙂

  1. There are some very funny things in this books. Reminds me of my time working in a bookshop and some customers drove me mental. No wonder I only sell online now but there are still weird emails with funny questions.

    • I can imagine that. Some of those people in the book are beyond cheeky. When you read about it’s fun but when you’re in it it’s not always funny. I remember some very rude and ignorant customers and some were just plain mad.

      • Rude tops the list. People think because you work in a shop you are there to be rude to. We had nicknames on some of our regular rudies & could tip each other off that one was in the building. Probably equally rude but it relieved the tension.

        • It’s sad really. I remember a customer, she is a well-known psychotherapist believing that people working in bookshops must have some lower degree or no schooling at all. I remember how condescending and argumentative she was. She would ask you wether you’d recommend a book and depending on the answer tell you you might lack the qualification to judge it. Eh? Why ask me then?
          Nicknames are a good way to relive tension.

          • You have to be quite clever to work in a bookshop as there is a lot of remembering titles & authors. I worked in a bookshop before the rise of the internet so it was all by knowledge.
            A doctor used to come in an order books every week. She had a simple name but every week insisted on spelling it for me like I was thick so sometimes for fun I used to get her to repeat like I really was so slow I couldn’t write down her five letter name. Her nickname was the spelling of her name. I had such laughs working in the bookshop. It was the happiest job I ever had.

  2. No, I haven’t, but I always crack up when I read #bookstorebingo on twitter.
    My favourites so far are:

    A customer, on seeing a copy of Great Expectations:
    “Look, they bring books out on all the TV programmes now.”

    and

    Customer: Do you have Candied by Voltron?

  3. We could write a book about the weird search terms that make people land on our blogs. That’s funny too.

    About bookshops.
    The opposite thing happened to me when I entered a bookshop and asked “Do you have Madman Bovary?” The bookseller looked down on me and replied “You mean Madame Bovary?”, I said “No, Madman Bovary by Claro published by Babel” and she checked on her computer that I wasn’t joking. No need to mention they didn’t have the book.

    • She must have thought you’re totally clueless and then had to realize, no, she was. 🙂
      I never used to have strange search engine terms and envied those who have but lately it started on this blog as well. Some people post them regularly, I always enjoy reading that.

  4. I wonder if the person who was looking for books written by Jane Eyre was on an errand for someone else and just got the info mixed up.

    No I haven’t heard anything funny in book shops, but I think they’ve gone down the toilet since they became bookshop/coffee shop combos.

    • It could very well be that bookshop/ coffee shop dowgraded the whole thing.
      Some of the examples clearly showed that people mixed up things and the reaction of the bookseller was rather sarcastic.

  5. I actually find these….”funny things people say….” very entertaining. I am into lots of “geeky” things so I read such anecdotes on various forums from time to time. What I think is most funny are not situations where people lack knowledge, it is situations where people lack knowledge but think that they know it all.

    • I totally agree. the Orwell example is one like that and there are some others. It’s just hilarious when arrogant people make mistakes.
      I’ve got a book with letters people wrote to lawyers it’s equally funny.

  6. Interesting book, Caroline! It looks like a fun read 🙂 I loved all the anecdotes you have quoted, especially the one about the customer reading in the bookshop and marking the page where she / he left off 🙂 I have seen people like that – who read in bookshops and continue the next day from where they have left off. How do you call a bookshop in your place? Do you say bookshop or bookstore?

    • It was ver< funny. I would have loved to quote the funniest. There were many in which people wanted to buy things which are not sold in a bookshop and then started a fight because it wasn't available.
      I suppose we would say Buchladen, which is rather bookshop than bookstore.

  7. In a previous life I worked in a bookstore in Los Angeles just a block from the beach. I could tell a gazillion stories, but one of my favorites was of a very stoned, tan, surfer guy who came in one day looking for some “relaxing music to listen to on my Walkman while I’m hanging out at the beach.” At the time we sold a number of new age cassettes (yes, children, it was that long ago) as well as some “environmental” tapes with sounds of nature. These last tapes he found terribly intriguing.

    “So, it’s just, like, recordings of actual nature?”

    “Um, yes.”

    “Wow. Cool. Hmm. Difficult to choose. Mountain Stream? Spring Rainstorm? Tropical Forest? Oh, wow, Ocean! I’ll take that one.”

    • That made me lough out loud. So funny.
      I can imagine that you have a lot of stories to tell. the bookshop I was working in is an “esoterical” bookshop. It still exists but they moved ten years ago, just after I left. It used to be a dark and scary ooking place and attracted a lot of weirdos. Some of the anecdotes were just to weird to shrae like te guy who came in asking if he could clean our toilets as he had been a slave in a earlier life!

  8. No, not in bookstores, but once I was in an airport and suddenly heard over the intercom, “Nathaniel Hawthorne, please call your mother. Nathaniel Hawthorne, please call your mother.” I couldn’t believe no one else was laughing.

    This book would indeed make a great gift, Caroline.

  9. I worked in a bookstore for a little under a year when I lived in Boston. I was amazed by all of the odd questions I heard. I should have kept a diary. One of my favorites was when someone asked where the pink book went. I thought the title was Pink but eventually I figured out that she was looking at a book with a pink cover and it wasn’t on a display table anymore. That’s when I started to realize how many covers have pink on it.

    Another one I remember was when a woman wanted a book on the Red Sox when they won the World Series. I thought she meant an earlier year but she was referring to their recent win, which was less then a month earlier. I told her that a book hadn’t come out yet on their winning the World Series since it just happened and it took time to write a book and to edit it and such. She looked at me and asked for someone else to help her since she didn’t like my answer. My manager told her the same thing.

    • I was thinking the same. I heard so many amazing things but didn’t write them down. There are a few examples with colors in this book too.
      And, I agree, mostly the customers don’t take no for an answer.

    • Since I work at a publisher I can attest that the general public has no idea how long it takes to get a printed book to market!

      Thanks for reviewing this book Caroline. It sounds like a fun read.

  10. I often visit a website called Not Always Right, which is written by exasperated shop attendants about funny or rude customers.But my aunt, I think, qualifies as a funny bookshop customer. She doesn’t read books, but she buys 5-6 every month, all with covers to go with her wall and upholstery. I have avoided visiting bookstores with her, but I’m sure the shop-people have a lot of jokes about her 🙂

    • I’m pretty sure as well. 🙂 I thought you can buy fake books for that reason. That would be great for her.
      I have to have a look at that website. Thanks for sharing.

  11. this looks great fun Caroline ,I d love to work in a bookshop ,but worry I d be like the guys in nick hornbys high fidelity but ion a book shop of course ,all the best stu

  12. oh my…I so want to read this book. I Love the quotes you have chosen even though you said they weren’t the funniest.

    Too bad the book is too thin.

    there is an Indonesian book which has similarity to this. It started as a blog called Nguping Jakarta (listening to Jakarta) where people shared funny conversation they heard in public.

    • Some were incredibly funny. People are cheeky and silly. It’s relatively expensive for such a slim book. I’m sure that Indonesain book is very funny as well. I sometimes hear the most amazing things when I have to take the bus.

  13. So now I am confused… Is my romantic dream about owning a book café someday something to pursue, or something to fear…

    I remember an encounter in a bookstore in Costa Rica with a man who was so polite and wanted to look at my digital camera (he’d never seen one). I handed it over to him, a bit nervous he would try to steal it.
    But he didn’t, instead he acidentally took a picture of himself, flash and all, right in the face. I still have that picture.

    • There still is a huge appeal in owning a book café. 🙂 But people are silly and when you have to do with a lot of them like you would if you’re a shop or café onwer, I guess then you encouter a lot of silly things.
      I would absolutely cherish that photo. Such a nice touch.

  14. I’ll bet this was a fun read. Although it’s the kind of book I might well be tempted to, um, stand in a bookstore and read. When I worked at Waterstones we had lots of funny anecdotes (and a rule NEVER to repeat what a customer had said on the shop floor but to wait until we were in the safety of the staff room). This one woman once asked for a big book to be removed from the window display, no easy matter getting past the lights that would give you a nasty burn. But we did it, and then she never even read the blurb, just held it in her hands and said: ‘No, too heavy’ and walked away.

  15. The internet book shops must be making all these stories a thing of the past… or it may just be reducing the type of customers to the true weirdoes 😉

  16. I howled and howled over this entry, Caroline. I think they appeal most to booksellers and librarians. I worked in a children’s bookstore for 3 years and the title-mix-ups were so hilarious, yet I can’t recall a single one. Darn!!!
    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

    • I’m glad you thought it was funny. It’s certainyl even funnier when you’ve had the experinece. I worked in an esoterical bookshop and let me tell you, some weird folks were looking -not only – for books but I’ve forgotten so much.

  17. This sounds like a fun read–I’ll hav e to see if its been published over here yet. I used to work in a bookstore when I was younger as well and I always loved the questions–I’m looking for a book I saw in here a year ago and it had a blue cover…. 🙂

    • I’m sure you d like it nd it would be bring back some memories as well. I get the most amazing movie related question on my movie blog. “I’ve seen this movie, it must have been inthe 60s or the 7os it was a WWII movie but I don’t remember what it was about nor how old it was but someone did smoke a cigarette” -sort of…..

  18. Oh yes, I definitely want to read this. Even though I’ve never worked at a bookstore, I can easily imagine so many of these situations. It’s all a little sad, but also very, very funny.

  19. Pingback: Nineteen Eighty Four (Instrumental) | right beat radio

  20. When I lived in New York many summers ago, I could not afford to buy books. So I spent my lunch breaks reading in the bookshop on the ground floor of our office building. That was how I got to read, among other books, Italo Calvino’s “Italian Folk Tales,” which was a big book. But I swear I never made folds to mark the page I was at. I just memorized the page number. Thank you, Barnes & Noble, for the reads that made the harsh NY winter more bearable.

    • I like your story, thanks for sharing it. One could argue, of course, that you could have read books from the library. I’m sure the ones you read were still in good condition but I do understand a book seller’s concer.

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