Slice and Dice


Encounters in a Bookstore #11: A Holiday Reflection

Several months ago there was an article in a New York-centric magazine detailing the idea that mutual dislike fosters stronger friendships. For those with a sunny disposition, I can understand how this article may be puzzling. Why would people who are in bad moods gravitate to other people in bad moods? Why ever would one grumpy person find comfort in another grump.

For the rest of you—us, rather—we can nod our heads. I’d like to use my part-time bookstore job as a prime example.

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Encounters in a Bookstore #294: These Coupons Do Not Go to 11

The bookstore where I work wants your email address. You will then receive about one email from us per day, most of which aren’t worth opening. But before you decline to give it to us, just remember: some of those emails will include coupons.

A while back, one such coupon was good for 40% off an educational game or toy of your choice. Like most coupons it included very fine print, and that fine print stipulated that the coupon was only good for one item per transaction per customer.

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Encounters in a Bookstore #76: A Hint of Ink

At the bookstore where I work it is not unusual to deal with customers who are slightly…off. The bespectacled woman who walked in through the front doors one evening and directly to the cash line was one such individual, and she was easy to peg because of the words billowing from her mouth. She also did not bother to wait in the line, or even seem to notice that she might need to.

“I know I have to have my receipt but I can’t find it because the receipts at this store are just too small and I have about two hundred receipts in my wallet and I have to return this book because the smell of its ink makes me sick and I can’t have it in my house anymore but your return policy might be a problem although I spoke to a manager about it the other day when I had to return a different book by the same publisher that also made me sick because of the smell of the ink and what do your receipts look like?”

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Encounters in a Bookstore #5: Room 513

Only after a certain amount of time has passed are employees at the bookstore where I work allowed to man the customer service counter. Answering the phones and making overhead announcements and being able to look up titles based on customer descriptions of yellow and red book covers are things better left to seasoned workers—at least two weeks of experience is required.

So three or five weeks into my stint at the bookstore, then, I was working the info desk on a weekday afternoon. At my side, over-explaining everything was my very enthusiastic coworker Chris, who has since gone on to such jobs as life coach and Trader Joe’s clerk. I had just semi-successfully transferred a call to the people working on the floor below when a woman walked in the front doors and headed directly toward our counter.

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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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