When I was in college I managed a bookstore. There were few better jobs for a bibliophile like mewe were able to borrow books, the longer I worked there I started having regular customers ask me for recommendations on what to read, and I had the opportunity to talk about books all day long. (Plus, I could wear jeans every day, and the store hours were pretty accommodating to someone going to school full-time.)
These were the days before the "super stores" came to the DC area, so we didn't have to worry about clients going to Borders or Barnes & Noble, and ours wasn't a store built for congregating or readingyou browsed, found a book, paid, and left. (The one exception to that rule was during lunchtime, when the government workers would stand in the magazine section hiding their copies of Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler in legitimate magazines.)
For years after I graduated from college and held numerous stress-laden "real jobs," I used to dream of one day working at a bookstore again. Little did I realize that the advent of the bookstore-as-library concept championed by Barnes & Noble and Borders, coupled with the growing selfishness and entitlement of customers, would shake me from my idyllic thoughts.
When I decided to concentrate on being a personal chef full-time in 2004-05, I took a job at a local Barnes & Noble in order to have a regular income and health insurance. I learned fairly quickly that this wasn't the perfect job it once wasbook displays were determined by corporate, so there was little creativity involved; my knowledge of books wasn't prized by our store manager, so I spent a great deal of time shelving maps and travel books, or magazines, instead of working with "real" books; and I often found myself supporting the nearly-always-shorthanded café staff, making lattes, serving cheesecake and mopping floors.
Oh, and the customers truly sucked the joy from the job. People would come into the store, grab a gigantic stack of books or magazines, read them in the café, at tables throughout the store, or even on the floor, and then leave them there. I literally would put the same magazines away time and time and time again. (My tenure at the store was during the whole Brad Pitt/Jennifer Aniston/Angelina Jolie scandal as well as the breakup of Britney Spears' and Jessica Simpson's marriages, so I grew quickly tired of their faces on the cover of every magazine.) Customers felt entitled to leave stuff wherever they wanted; they'd set up their laptops in the middle of an aisle, and allow their kids to roam free and pull stuff off the shelves. (Anyone assigned to straighten the kids' area at the end of the night would want to cry nearly as much as the person in charge of the newsstand.)
Not that the job was all torture, mind you. Apart from those people who never wanted to do anything or didn't show up for their shifts, I worked with a really fun group of people, many of whom read books and loved talking about them. And there was many a time where a group of us were laughing hysterically at one thing or another, usually the behavior of customers.
So it was with great fondness when I saw the list of bookseller grievances that came from Borders' employees as their stores closed. While some of these may seem petty to those who never worked in a bookstore, many of these hit the spot, and my memory bank. (When people would call the store and say, "I wanted to know if you had a book," my sarcastic reply after the call was ended was, "Oh, we're fresh out of books, but we can sell you a lovely calendar.") And more than one person asked for "the book by that guy," "the book with the blue cover that was on that table last week," or "the one they talked about on the internet last night."
Here's the list:
++ We hate when a book becomes popular simply because it was turned into a movie.
++ It confused us when we were asked where the non-fiction section is.
++ Nicholas Sparks is not a good writer … if you like him, fine, but facts are facts.
++ We greatly dislike the phrase "Quick question." It’s never true. And everyone seems to have one.
++ Your summer reading list was our summer reading NIGHTMARE. Also, it’s called summer reading, not three days before school starts reading.
++ It’s true that we lean to the left and think Glenn Beck is an idiot.
++ We always knew when you were intently reading Better Homes and Gardens, it was really a hidden Playboy.
++ Most of the time when you returned books you read them already — and we were onto you.
++ "Limit one coupon" did not mean one for every member of your family — this angered us. Also, we did know what coupons were in distribution that week.
++ It never bothered us when you threatened to shop at Barnes & Noble. We’d rather you do if you’re putting up a stink.
++ "I was just here last week and saw this book there" meant nothing to us. The store changed once a week.
++ When you walked in and immediately said, "I’m looking for a book," what you really meant to say is, "I would like you to find me a book." You never looked. It’s fine, it’s our job — but let’s be correct about what’s really happening here.
++ If you don’t know the author, title, or genre, but you do know the color of the cover, we don’t either. How it was our fault that we couldn’t find it we’ll never understand.
++ We were never a daycare. Letting your children run free and destroy our section destroyed a piece of our souls.
++ Oprah was not the "final say" on what is awesome. We really didn’t care what was on her show or what her latest book club book was. Really.
++ When you returned your SAT books, we knew you used them. We thought it wasn’t fair — seeing that we are not a library.
Believe me, I don't excuse those in customer service who are rude, but I will say that working at a bookstore these days was a brutal job, only as far as dealing with the public. But it was fun...