1 September 2012

Review 48: Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell

"A John Cleese Twitter question ('What is your pet peeve?'), first sparked the Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops blog, which grew over three years into one bookseller's collection of ridiculous conversations on the shop floor. From 'Did Beatrix Potter ever write a book about dinosaurs?' to the hunt for a paperback which could forecast the next year's weather, and from 'I've forgotten my glasses, please read me the first chapter' to 'Excuse me... is this book edible?': here is a book for heroic booksellers and booklovers alike."

A short but impressed review for this book of the funny and/or horrifyingly ignorant things customers say in bookshops. This will only take you twenty minutes or so to read through but it is well worth the time for some laughs and giggles as well as some horrified gasps at peoples ineptitude and rudeness. Both a celebration of the wonders of bookshops and a (generally) affectionate look at the huge variety of people that frequent them.

First Line: "Customer: I read a book in the sixties. I don't remember the author, or the title. But it was green, and it made me laugh. Do you know which one I mean?"

Why I read it: I saw it on the wonderful Literary Gift Company website (www.theliterarygiftcompany.com/) You should definitely check it out - full of amazing and creative presents for book lovers (or for yourself as is more often the case for me.)

Who I would recommend it to: Book lovers.

This, I believe, began as a blog by a bookseller who started recording the humorous and the idiotic things that her customers said to her. This turned into a publishing deal which resulted in this book (and a newly released book of poetry, The Hungry Ghost Festival as well as calls for submissions for a sequel from booksellers and librarians - I'm hoping some of my students give me some material when term starts again on Monday!)

There's not much you can say about a book like these as it does comprise entirely of quotes so it does what it says on the tin. But if you enjoy books and bookshops then it is well worth a read. Several of them made me laugh out loud and many of them resonated with me as a librarian and the very odd queries you get, particularly the assumption that you will be able to identify and track down any book based on random, sometimes inaccurate details. There are also some which are rather concerning, particularly those that revolve around customers using bookshops for advice and recommendations and then openly admitting that they are going to go home and buy the book on Amazon. The knowledge and passion that booksellers (and librarians!) have about books is not something that can be mimicked or replaced by online retailers, or in fact volunteers in libraries, and if we want to preserve that then we need to keep using our local bookshops (and libraries!) otherwise it will vanish.

Books can be expensive nowadays and I know that I find the lure of the reduced prices on Amazon tempting but this book helped strengthen my resolve to support real bookshops. I love the experience of going into a bookshop, having a proper conversation with the booksellers about books and sharing that love of the written word that we both have. Ultimately, books are pretty much my favourite thing and I want to do anything I can do preserve anything that loves them as much as me. So when the Man Booker longlist was announced, I have bought the ones that appealed from a real bookshop and whilst I have paid more than I would on Amazon, I have had wonderful chats with booksellers and other customers about the longlist, and other books we love, and the experience has been glorious.

So if you love books, then support your bookshops and support your libraries! And buy your friends book vouchers for their birthdays. Or books you love (if you buy them from bookshops!) And talk to your friends about the books and the bookshops that you love. And talk to strangers about the books and bookshops you love!


  1. Agreed! I've said farewell to Amazon, at least the books section, because books are worth the money, and there is nothing like browsing a good bookshop, whether chain or independent, new or second-hand. They are worth paying the full price for.

    1. Totally. That's what I say to people, I feel that books are worth paying for. That feeling you get when you read a truly awesome book is worth the price of a hardback! And if you buy from bookshops with booksellers who know they're stuff then you're more likely to get that kind of book! Win win!