In Saturday’s Guardian, a publisher, Sharmaine Lovegrove wrote that publishers should work in bookshops to discover the unexpected pairings between readers and books.
Sometimes they’re not just unexpected but surreal.
I was eighteen, I’d just left school, and for nine months, I worked in one of my northern mill town’s only two bookshops.
Bookshops are one of the very few places where you can while away hours without spending anything, and therefore act as a magnet for the lonely, the eccentric and the simply mad.
There are the ‘I can’t remember the title or the author, but it had a green cover’ customers.
The ones who want a detailed explanation of exactly why you don’t stock ‘The Development of the Morris Minor Chassis’ (2nd edition).
And the ones who want you to buy the book back if they don’t like it.
My personal favourite? The man who came in one day, looking around with the same cautious expression of a Methodist preacher entering a porn shop.
‘We’ve just bought a wall unit from Iversons, and it’s got some bookshelves on it. And the wife wants some books to put on them.’
‘Fine, what sort of books were you looking for?’
‘Nay, lad, you don’t understand. I don’t want to put books on them.’
He was right; I didn’t understand.
‘I want those cardboard boxes, the ones with pictures of books on them, like they have in furniture stores, to display like. Iverson’s wouldn’t sell me any.’
‘Well, we don’t sell them either.’
‘You call this a bookshop? (said with disgust and scorn).
‘This is a bookshop. We sell books.’
Exit annoyed non-customer. I still sometimes wonder why he hadn’t bought a cardboard box with a picture of a wall unit on it in the first place.