Time and time again, at the bookstore and at children’s book festivals, I have observed white children picking up books with kids of color on the cover, and heard adults express surprise at the choice. “Are you sure you want that one?” they’ll ask. Or, “Wouldn’t you like this book instead?” It’s not the kids who are the problem. Kids really, really, really only care about a great story. In twenty years of connecting children with books they love, I have only seen one child—ONE!—balk at a book cover because the main character was a different race from her own. It’s the adults who underestimate a child’s ability or desire to see beyond race.
Stories From My Career at Barnes & Noble, Part One
College-age boy dressed as a wizard looking for a book on healing crystals.
Man who flicked water on my co worker because there were no paper towels left in the men’s bathroom.
Multiple accounts of people trying to use their old Borders Rewards cards in place of a B&N membership.
Prank caller asking for a book by “Seymour Butts.”
Middle-aged man sitting in the Newsstand area eating a 7-11 Big Gulp slurpee with a spoon and doing nothing else.
Small child that ate a Godiva chocolate santa right out of the foil…in the middle of the register aisle.
Multiple instances of me asking male customers if they need help, being denied, and then watching them approach my male co-workers with a question about a science fiction/fantasy novel.
Being scolded by a nun for selling Playboy magazine.
Cutting myself with a boxcutter, holding my bleeding hand, and being asked by a customer if my register was open.
Soccer mom that reported me to a manager for asking her to step to the back of the line after she cut in front of five people.
Almost daily instances of finding books from the Love & Sex bay in the Children’s department.
Elderly European couple that steals chairs from other people’s tables so they can put their feet up with pillows they brought from home.
Multiple instances of going to the bathroom and hearing someone talking to themselves in the neighboring stall. (This literally happened to me twice today.)
Elderly man that told my manager to tuck in his shirt.
Different elderly man universally known to the staff as “Membership Guy.” 100% believes that you are out to steal all his information and ruin his life by asking if he’s a Barnes & Noble member.
A coworker asking Membership Guy if he found everything alright, to which he replied, “why the FUCK would I be up here if I didn’t find everything alright?!”
The time a dude from Texas Roadhouse came in gave us free bread and cinnamon butter.
Woman whose cafe order totaled $6.66 and bought an extra cupcake to avoid “bad juju.”
Elderly man with a painted on mustache and off-kilter wig that tries to show everyone YouTube videos of his nephew’s band. The fact that you’re in the middle of making five drinks at once will not stop him.
Man who ferociously denied donating to our annual book drive because “the government has taken enough from him.” (?????)
Dude that asked me to help him find a book called “100 Nights of Great Sex” while his wife looked on with dead eyes.
Woman that told me I was “shit at my job” for being unable to find a book that she didn’t know the title or author of, only that it was white.
Regular customer known as “Monopoly Guy” because he always wears a top hat. Constantly hits on one specific female employee and frequently calls to see if she’s working. Was once caught jacking off in the parking lot by a co worker.
Woman that blatantly refused to leave the store after close because it was raining.
Drawing one of the manager’s names for our annual Secret Santa exchange and buying him Managing for Dummies, which he quickly whited out to say Managing Dummies.
Being rolled around on a V-cart by a co worker.
Woman that continued knocking on the window after close and demanded we let her in because she had a gift card.
The number one item most frequently stolen being Magic the Gathering cards.
Elderly woman buying romance novels and loudly announcing “since I’m not getting any, I might as well read about it.”
Redneck man reporting the head cashier to me because apparently asking him if he was a Barnes & Noble member was “being a bitch.”
Woman that demanded I ring her up over the phone and then bring her purchase to her car.
Mall Santas repeatedly coming in for a coffee break in full costume.
Catching a (now unemployed) co worker reading manga on the clock. Every. Single. Day.
Woman that asked me to help her find a book while I was washing my hands in the bathroom.
Two college boys looking for books on “growing indoor plants.”
A man that called the store just to ask where the nearest RadioShack was.
Watching a co worker get yelled at for using the credit card in the customer’s hand instead of the one in her purse.
Being asked to make an “iced hot chocolate.” After explaining to the customer that what they were asking for was chocolate milk, they furiously repeated “NO. I want an iced hot chocolate.”
Woman that demanded the corporate number and my name after telling her that she couldn’t return a book with a receipt from 2009.
Being tearfully hugged by a widowed dad for finding him books to help him teach his daughter about puberty.
Performing the yearly missing child drill with an Elf on the Shelf doll labeled “Bob.”
The managers hiding Bob around the store during the holidays and awarding prizes if we find him.
And lastly (for now, anyway)…
Being forced to wear the ridiculous costumes for Friday night storytimes.
On a Friday last month on my favorite street (Mutanabbi) in Baghdad. I asked the bookseller how old he was and he said “between 80 and 90.” Mutanabbi is the historic center of Baghdad bookselling, a street filled with bookstores and outdoor book stalls.
For those who haven’t heard, I recently got engaged and am needing to start a wedding fund! As a bookseller, I’m not exactly rollin’ in the dough Scrooge McDuck style. (Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE what I do and pray I never have to do anything else) BUT…if you are looking for certain books, feel free to email me at email@example.com. I have THOUSANDS of books here in my shop and will make you a great deal! Thanks so much!
-There are books to be reshelved. The pile is neverending. For every book you put away, two more appear in its place. As if by an invisible hand they appear on the information desk, waiting to be put back. You have put the same book away at least five times in the same day.
-The customer is looking for a book by an author, but neither the title nor the author come up in the search. You spell it ten different ways, but the answer is always the same: “Your search criteria has returned no results.”
-The kids section should not be entered. It is a Daedelian maze of endless picture books, juvenile fantasy novels, and Rick Riordan books. Customers wander it in a daze, looking for what they want but not knowing how to find it. They want you to tell them what they need. You do not touch the stuffed animals on display anymore. Last time you did, they were slightly damp.
-A woman sits in one of the armchairs, eating her snacks and reading. She is always there. Always. The pile of books and magazines beside her grows, but whenever you ask if you can put anything away she says no. She never buys anything. And she is there again the next day. The contents are different, but the pile is just as high.
-There is always someone looking for the newest book by James Patterson. But no, not that one, the newest one. The search results come up with a neverending list of James Patterson books that haven’t been published yet. There are some not set to be published for years, but published they will be. The customer has already read the latest one by him that is published. It isn’t new enough. It came out last month.
-Someone asks you to remove the discount sticker from a book they just purchased. You try, but the reside doesn’t come off. It moves and spreads until it covers more space than it originally did, until it is all over the whole cover, the entire book. It continues to spread, covering your hands, the register, the customer in front of you. The residue sustains.
-You enter receiving to put a book on the returns shelf. It is an obstacle course: hurdles of boxes, carts that roll on their own, piles of books that teeter towards you as you pass. The return shelves are overflowing with books due out. You cannot fit the book anywhere so you place it gently on a pile and hope it doesn’t collapse. On your way out you grab a cart of new arrivals to shelve. When you return, there are three new ones in its place and the truck is arriving with more.
-After helping a customer find the book they are looking for, they ask you if you have ever read it, and suggest that you do. You smile and say “maybe one day” but you never do.
-The store layout seems to change overnight. Sections that used to be in one spot suddenly appear in another, or disappear altogether. The tables travel. The endcaps move for no reason. The display signs stay the same but the books change; the books stay the same, but the display signs change. The system tells you the book you are looking for is on a table that does not seem to exist.
-Customers get ironically lost looking for the travel section. You give them detailed directions on how to get there. They thank you and not five feet away from you ask the next bookseller they see how to get to the travel section. See also: the restroom.
-You pass someone looking forlornly at a bookshelf and ask them if they need help finding anything. They tell you the books aren’t in alphabetical order. You tell them that they are and ask what book it is they are looking for. They are nowhere near the right section.
-The latest new release is in. It is the newest popular book for teens and/or young readers. There are over a hundred copies but only three displays. There isn’t enough room in section for the extras so you put the rest in overstock. You fill up an entire shelf with them. The system says there are more on the way, but there is no more room. There is never any more room.
-There are bookshelves stuffed full to the point that the books won’t even budge when you try to pull one out, and others that are so empty the books fall over when a breeze passes by. There are new books that need to go on the bookshelves that are already full, and none to go on the ones that are empty.
-As a bookseller you have a great discount and access to ARCs that come in to the store. You take as many as you can. Half your paycheck goes back into buying books. Your bookshelves at home are sinking in the middle under the weight of all the books you own but haven’t yet read. It’s an addiction, a problem, one you never want to fix, and this is why you continue to work at a bookstore. Because it helps feed your unending need for new material to read. You are an addict and an enabler, a dealer for book hoarders everywhere. And you love it.