Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dumb things overheard in bookstores.

I parked today in a White Plains car park in space number 2001, and this reminded me that, nearly a decade after Kubrik's movie took place, we still don't have any PanAm flights to the moon. Don't have any PanAm, for that matter. On the other hand, my computer does call me Dave. Even when it's switched off.

It also reminded me of another iconic year that passed without incident, 1984, and since nothing funny has happened to me in the last 24 hours that I can write about, here are a couple of real things heard in bookstores over the years.

So back in 1984, I'm in a small Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side -- they were mainly small in those simpler, gentler times -- and somebody asked the sales assistant for a copy of, yes, 1984.

"Who's it by?" asked the assistant. Six customers in the store simultaneously looked up and chorused "George Orwell!"

To be equaled by an even earlier overhearing, back in my local bookshop in Wimbledon, England, in 1979.

"Do you have Clive James's autobiography?" asked a customer.

"I don't know," answered the assistant. "Who's it by?"

There's a point where these stories stop being funny and start being, well, kind of sad, at least when you consider the longer term job prospects of the employees concerned. In the first case, the young woman assistant followed up her customers' prompting of the year's most famous classic by beaming around the store and merrily announcing "I never heard of it." And in the second case, James's book about his Australian childhood Unreliable Memoirs, with which the assistant was unfamiliar, was currently the at top of the British bestsellers list.


  1. I have no *overheard* things to add, but once in a bookstore, a casual acquaintence expressed surprise that I still had to purchase books. She honestly thought that writers got all the books they wanted for free.

  2. We do. Why, have you been paying all these years? Didn't you get the memo?

  3. Having worked in a bookstore, the saddest ones are the customers who walk in (or call) and say, "Hello, I'm looking for a book." Full stop. Really? A book. You don't say.