Slice and Dice


Encounters in a Different Bookstore #2: Some Questions Asked

In the second round of chronicling other bookstore experiences, Stephanie Anderson of WORD (who will be participating in the Slice Conference mid-month) proposed we compare the questions we are asked by customers on any given day. Lists of queries below.

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Encounters in a Different Bookstore #1: Some Questions Answered

Greetings! Rather than blather on about some customer issue at the bookstore where I work, I’d like to highlight Amanda Bullock, who is the Director of Public Programming at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. Since she’ll be participating in the Slice Conference mid-July (sign up! sign up!), I had a few questions. Eleven of them.

1) Why books? Why a bookstore?

I’m a nerd and I like hanging out with other nerds all the time. I worked in book publishing for five years, and left when I realized I wanted to interact more with other readers than I was able to on that side of this world. I’ve always loved bookstores and I still am thrilled that I get to spend most of my time in my favorite one.

2) What is the strangest question you’ve been asked by a customer?

I honestly can’t think of one! There have definitely been some LOL moments, but nothing really that bizarre. There’s always people who think you will be able to identify the book they are looking for by vague descriptions like “it’s green and I saw it in a magazine,” so that’s fun.

3) Do you have any pet peeves that came to light through your work at a bookstore?

People who think that the chairs that are blockaded behind tables and displays are available to them to put wherever they feel like. People who tell me “I’ll just buy it online.”

4) What do you respond when people ask why something is cheaper online?

Our books are pretty cheap, luckily, although we do get people who don’t seem to realize “nonprofit” doesn’t mean we’re not trying to fund raise for our mission of fighting homelessness and AIDS.

5) Is there a most satisfying part of your job (i.e. handing a book to a child who cries tears of joy)?

When people thank me at events. This warms even my cold heart, and it happens pretty frequently. People actually thank me for doing my job, and that’s pretty amazing that we can create something that people are thankful for.

6) Which book is at the top of your favorites list? Is this also your favorite book to recommend?

Moby-Dick. I don’t recommend it to everyone unless I think they can handle it. But I think every person in the world should read it.

7) Is there a title that makes you shudder every time someone asks for it? Care to share it?

There are lots, but at least people are still reading and buying books from us. I know that’s a very PR response, but yup.

8) Do you contact authors for events, or do they contact you? How do events work?

Usually people are contacting me and then we work on and expand their idea together. We don’t typically do straight-up, single-author, reading and Q&A type stuff. We really strive to maximize the amount and kind of space we have, and make events multi-genre when possible and create things that feel like they could only happen at Housing Works. And, honestly, a lot of my job is saying no to people for whatever reason.

9) How do you feel about eBooks?

No thanks. I stare at a screen all day long, it’s nice to stare at something else sometimes. Although I do have an iPad now and will probably subscribe to Emily Books, because I love that project.

10) What did you have for lunch today?

Margherita Mac from Macbar down the street; it’s raining out, I needed some comfort.

11) What question would you love to answer that no one has ever asked? (And what is the answer?)

My superpower is that I don’t get brain freeze; I’m impervious to it.


Liz Mathews composes ads for many things science fiction and fantasy. Her writing can be found in magazines, catalogs, newspapers, brochures, and books; and on bookmarks, postcards, cable television commercials, and even doorhangers all across the United States and in some parts of Canada. She lives in Brooklyn but considers the cornfields of Iowa home.

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