We cant tell you who wrote this piece, or where they work. What we can tell you is its not Unity.
A little while ago, I said to a friend that working at a bookshop kind of sucks. He was clearly bamboozled. I thought working at a bookshop would be lovely and magical. Being surrounded by books, reading all day
I used to think so, too.
When I got my first job as a bookseller, at 16 years old, I was thrilled. I had wanted to work at my local bookshop since I was a child I hero-worshipped and crushed on the staff, was entranced by the shelves and the papery smell, and spent hours reading in the kids room while my Mum and Dad had coffee next door (note to parents: if your children are gremlins, this is not good practice).
I loved cutting up the Christmas wrapping paper and recommending childrens books to parents. I happily gave up half my weekend to be there, making friends Ive kept ever since. Through the bookshop Ive become more confident, met countless lovely customers, been introduced to excellent and thought-provoking books, and experienced the way that communities continue to support an industry that would otherwise disappear.
But after 10 years as a part-time bookseller, Im jaded. Ive become someone who frequently loathes other people. And this isnt just me being an asshole.
Lately, grumpy booksellers have been going public. Last year Anne Barnetson, a bookseller in Perth, started posting her comic series Customer Service Wolf to Tumblr and Instagram. She told the BBC Its unenacted fantasies that I think people have after a very long day when they think: It would just be great to stop all this right now.'
There have been books, of course: London bookseller Jen Campbell released Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores in 2012; five years later Scottish secondhand bookstore owner Shaun Bhythell put out what Russell Baillie described in the Listener as a funny, pithy, grumpy poignant memoir of a year in the shops life and its occasionally annoying clientele.
And, at the serious end of the spectrum, Sadie Stein, contributing editor for The Paris Review, opened a 2016 column with I love bookstores, but theres something that needs to be said: theyre often filled with lurking creeps.
All retailers know that just one unpleasant interaction someone who doesnt treat you as a real human, basically can ruin your day. These customers come in various forms: the creepy men, the entitled, the children-with-icecreams, the bigots, the (many) people who are outraged that we dont have a particular title, despite Covid-19 playing havoc with supply chains (NB: please call ahead!). Crucially, unlike most retail jobs, customers of bookshops want to discuss ideas, and that can lead to uncomfortable, sticky situations.
Plus, I now know that part of the bookshop smell is a carpet that has absorbed urine both canine and toddler so a bit of the olfactory charm has gone, too.
Probably weeing. (Photo: Martin Barraud/Getty)
The reality: working in a bookshop is sometimes a bit shit, more Black Books than Notting Hill. Let me list the ways.
When the customer is wrong
A woman once said to my manager, Do you have 20 Rules for Life?
Do you mean Jordan Petersons 12 Rules for Life? she asked.
Haughty look. No. Its 20 Rules.
My manager picked up a copy of the book, 12 Rules for Life. This one?
Well, thats the right author. But no. Im certain its 20 Rules. Ill call my son and get this sorted out.
When the customer is wrong and also racist
The number of times Ive had someone tell me I dont like Asian writers would be ridiculous and absurd if it wasnt so offensive. Generally, I assume such customers have read one Murakami novel and believe that hes It.
An incident that really sticks with me is when an older woman asked for a book recommendation, and I suggested A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara a Man Booker finalist, incredible, brutal, and one of my favourites. Recommending a book like this, which left me devastated and still has the power to choke me up, feels like extending an (emotionally laden) olive branch. Youre trying to share an experience that moved you, so its hard not to feel a bit miffed when you gush over something amazing and then the customer buys Jojo Moyes. But this time, the customer stopped me before I finished saying Its about four men
Oh no, she said. I dont read Asian authors.
Hanya Yanagihara is American, I said. The book is set in New York.
Then whats with her name?
Long exhale through the nose. Her parents are from Hawaii.
She scrunched up her face and said no thank you and at that point I just had to walk away, leaving her to browse all the novels by men called John or Robert and women called Ann. How, I thought, did people still think these things, let alone say them aloud in public? Is it because people like me just walk away, rather than telling them it isnt right?
Its hard, though, to say what you think when youre in customer service. Even in a regular social situation my conflict-averse nature would make it difficult, but when a large part of your job is to ensure that your shop keeps getting five-star Google reviews and receiving happy paying customers, biting your tongue can feel like the only option, even when on the inside youre spitting nails.
When the customer is a creep
Sometimes, behaving like its all OK and putting on a pleasant face can really cause trouble. On and off for five years, from when I was 19, a middle-aged man stalked me in the shop. He would come in when I was on my own at night, tell me hed broken up with his girlfriend because he liked me better, call the shop repeatedly to ask me to coffee, say hed recently watched Fifty Shades of Grey and that Anastasia reminded him of me because, of course, shes so clever.
Anastasia Steele (as played by Dakota Johnson): really not renowned for her smarts. (Photo: Supplied)
At the start, I partly blamed myself for getting into this situation. Hadnt I chatted cheerfully with him? Hadnt I smiled? Hadnt I wryly told him that Fifty Shades of Grey is not great literature?
But of course this wasnt my fault. I was in customer service mode. I was being nice and accommodating because thats what youre expected to do, both as a customer service worker and as a woman. You get used to saying Yes, of course, and Oh, how interesting. Plus, I literally couldnt leave when he talked to me. The furthest away I could get was behind the till.
What most customers understand is that customer service workers are fakers. Sure, sometimes were happy, sometimes we even enjoy the chatting but its also our job, so generally it shouldnt be taken to heart. But some men oh, they take it to heart, and they keep it buried deep in their aorta, even when two years have passed and you duck upstairs whenever they walk through the door.
Our health and safety plan in a situation like that is to send a Facebook message saying CALL THE SHOP! to the work groupchat, wait for a colleague to ring, then pretend the friend on the phone is an annoying customer who might take hours to deal with, hoping that the actual annoying/unstable/stalker customer will get disheartened and decide to leave.
This is not totally reassuring, however, when youre alone with a man who is wearing a mesh singlet and covered in swastika tattoos.
When whats selling is extremely weird
Cultural trends are reflected in what people buy. In 2016, for example, we sold what felt like billions of adult colouring books. Obviously, that year everyone was stressed as hell and very susceptible to suggestion. After Christmas, the colouring books left and never came back, a weird blip in the book universe.
Over the past few months, since the police killing of George Floyd and the political protests and riots that followed, the trend has been to buy books that confront and oppose racism. How to be an Anti-Racist, Me and White Supremacy, So You Want to Talk About Race, White Fragility, and books by James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Michelle Alexander and others have been hugely in demand we keep ordering them in, there are stacks put away as special customer orders, and yet there are never enough copies on the shelves.
Black Lives Matter March For Solidarity in Auckland on June 1, 2020 (Photo: Jihee Junn)
The buying habits at our bookshop are just a microcosm of whats going on in the world. In early June, both the New York Times list of bestselling non-fiction and Amazons bestsellers list were suddenly dominated by books addressing racism.
In the UK, Reni Eddo-Lodge (Why Im No Longer Talking to White People About Race) and Bernardine Evaristo (Girl, Woman, Other) became the first black British women to top the countrys non-fiction and fiction charts, respectively.
Its refreshing to see these changes, despite how late theyve come, despite the incredible discomfort, articulated by Reni Eddo-Lodge, that it took the killing of an innocent black man to drive such widespread interest and care. Still, when I see people lining up to buy these titles, it feels considerably better than when the queue was for Lost Ocean: An Inky Adventure & Colouring Book.
When it all gets too much
Books are vehicles for ideas, ideology, and politics, even when that wasnt the authors intent (think of when Ted Dawes Into the River was banned, or the recent controversy surrounding American Dirt).
While bookshops are generally politically neutral spaces, in which Richard Dawkins is equally as welcome as Eckhart Tolle, there are times when both booksellers and customers dont see it that way.
A customer I remember well came into the shop one night and turned John Keys biography face-down on the table before leaving in a hurry. She then emailed the shop to say that she found it both distasteful and mystifying that a small business like ours would propagate such a book. We replied that we didnt push a political agenda, that our staff hold a variety of viewpoints (although, really, were mainly a bunch of lefties). End of discussion.
Possibly not an accidental juxtaposition. Kim Dotcom tweeted this in 2014, commenting in fine company (Photo: Twitter)
Really, though, were not always neutral and agenda-less. Nearly half of my colleagues studied politics, were in the book world because we enjoy discussing ideas, and were low-wage earners of course we have views, not only about the world, but about the books we sell. On occasion, thats led to some perhaps less-than-ethical behaviour.
Jordan Petersons self-help book 12 (not 20) Rules for Life is a good example. After becoming well-known for his views on free speech and gender-neutral pronouns, Peterson was adopted as a mascot of the alt-right. Boxes upon boxes of his books arrived in our shop, and most staff werent thrilled.
So after selling dozens of copies to both Peterson fans and people simply intrigued by the title, a few of my colleagues had had enough and ended up hiding Petersons books in a cupboard behind the till. Well sell them if someone asks, they said, but were not going to advertise them on the shop floor.
Surely it isnt the place of booksellers to censor or interfere in consumer trends, is it? But, equally, were human, were political beings rather than customer service robots. And sometimes, we snap.
Read more here:
Confessions of a jaded NZ bookseller - The Spinoff
- Dont bank on Britains foppish, lazy elites to save us from deep fakery - The Guardian - August 2nd, 2020
- Will the real fascist please stand up? - Fallbrook / Bonsall Villlage News - July 31st, 2020
- Hess Jr. claims third win in a row at Eriez | News, Sports, Jobs - timesobserver.com - July 31st, 2020
- 5-year-old boy severely injured after being run over during camping trip - East Idaho News - July 27th, 2020
- Peterson: Last call for the Top 120 of 2020 - The Topeka Capital-Journal - July 27th, 2020
- MALCOLM: Fair coverage of the Conservative leadership is missing - Toronto Sun - July 27th, 2020
- 'Your inner voice will need to be your compass': Turners Falls High School says goodbye to Class of 2020 - The Recorder - July 27th, 2020
- Taibbi, Harper's and the Intellectual Dark Web - CounterPunch.org - CounterPunch - July 27th, 2020
- This Week in Podcasts: feat. Big Shiny Takes, Oats for Breakfast and more | Ricochet - Ricochet Media - July 5th, 2020
- TCW's top ten blogs of the week - The Conservative Woman - July 5th, 2020
- Nietzsche meets Netflix: the killer philosophy behind The Sinner - The Telegraph - July 2nd, 2020
- Bishop Robert Barron on Internet ministry, Black Lives Matter and the art of dialogue - America Magazine - June 30th, 2020
- The fall of Cambridge University - TheArticle - June 30th, 2020
- Sorry, not sorry: How Muay Thai taught me to stop apologising for everything - The Spinoff - June 30th, 2020
- Jordan Peterson: The activists are now stalking the hard scientists - National Post - June 24th, 2020
- Joe Rogan Is Asking For Heat With Latest Comments - TheThings - June 24th, 2020
- Alpha brains but beta minds: Tory culture is the main worry for true conservatives - The Conservative Woman - June 24th, 2020
- Amia Srinivasan He, She, One, They, Ho, Hus, Hum, Ita: How Should I Refer to You? LRB 2 July 2020 - London Review of Books - June 24th, 2020
- Clergy kneel to those who'd trample over them - The Conservative Woman - June 22nd, 2020
- Dave Rubin On Where Liberals And Conservatives Can Agree, And Can't - The Federalist - June 16th, 2020
- Five defensive players the Arizona Cardinals need to live up to expectations in 2020 - Revenge of the Birds - June 16th, 2020
- NFL stars deliver a message to the league: Admit you silenced us wrongly - Sporting News - June 6th, 2020
- On the Limits of Dave Rubins Cultural Politics - National Review - June 6th, 2020
- Jordan B. Peterson Health Update: Author Is Recovering ... - May 27th, 2020
- Jordan Peterson is back at work on his next book - May 27th, 2020
- Jordan Peterson on the Resurrection | Adrian Warnock - Patheos - May 27th, 2020
- Why Hungarys Viktor Orbn is the American rights favorite strongman - Vox.com - May 24th, 2020
- Patrick Peterson says 2020 Cardinals are, on paper, best team he has been on - Cards Wire - May 24th, 2020
- Graduation 2020: Westby Area High School - The Westby Times - May 24th, 2020
- Jonathan Kay: It takes a true artist to find new ways to shock the conscience. Kent Monkman has done that - National Post - May 24th, 2020
- The Irrelevance of the Intelligence Debate - Merion West - May 18th, 2020
- There are great stories about U.S. Open qualifiers; too bad we won't have any in 2020 - GolfDigest.com - May 18th, 2020
- Bob Holliday talks about the fun day when MJ and Buzz Peterson went golfing - WRALSportsFan.com - May 15th, 2020
- Mohamed and the Mountain | Annette Poizner | The Blogs - The Times of Israel - May 15th, 2020
- What Hating Jordan Peterson Tells You (about yourself) - The Times of Israel - May 6th, 2020
- Former Vol head coach appears in ESPNs The Last Dance - Vols Wire - May 6th, 2020
- What if Michael Jordan had signed with Adidas? He very nearly did, and it haunts Gary Stokan to this day - WRALSportsFan.com - May 6th, 2020
- Why is it always the white NFL players who get a second chance? - The Guardian - May 6th, 2020
- Another Piece on How Feminism Has Ruined Men - RushLimbaugh.com - May 6th, 2020
- Dave Rubin is out of ideas - Business Insider - Business Insider - May 6th, 2020
- Justin Amash could lead conservative reformation - Spring Hope Enterprise - May 2nd, 2020
- May Day! May Day! Is Government Out of Control? What It Means to Investors - Stock Investor - May 2nd, 2020
- Jordan Peterson and Carl Jung's Worldviews Have Been Greatly Oversimplified - Merion West - May 1st, 2020
- Dave Rubin Talks To Shapiro About Learning From Jordan Peterson On Tour - The Daily Wire - May 1st, 2020
- The one player Michael Jordan was scared of in college? Buzz Peterson details it - The Athletic - May 1st, 2020
- Russell Brand And Ricky Gervais Are Just What Your Brain Needs - The Federalist - May 1st, 2020
- The Problem with Edmund Burke and Defenders of Tradition - Merion West - May 1st, 2020
- FreedomFest Urges People to 'Catch the Vision' in Las Vegas - Right Wing Watch - May 1st, 2020
- Seminal Words and the Pregnant Pause | Annette Poizner - The Times of Israel - April 22nd, 2020
- Too Hot to Handle on Netflix is undeniably Sexy in Quarantine - The TeCake - April 22nd, 2020
- What Skeptical Scholars Admit about the Resurrect... - ChristianityToday.com - April 13th, 2020
- Michael Brooks' New Book Hits the Mark - Merion West - April 13th, 2020
- How Joe Rogan and Eric Weinstein Sinned - Thrive Global - April 7th, 2020
- Understanding the Viciousness of Jordan Peterson's Critics - Merion West - March 27th, 2020
- Rosie Huntington-Whiteley Has Mastered The Art Of Waist-Up Dressing - British Vogue - March 27th, 2020
- Five hours to change your life with Jordan Peterson - Patheos - March 27th, 2020
- If people stand up in the face of the things they are afraid of, they get stronger - The Indian Express - March 27th, 2020
- Prof still fighting school's demand to call he a 'she' - OneNewsNow - March 18th, 2020
- Patrick Peterson: Cardinals 'all in' this year and 'not done' - Cards Wire - March 18th, 2020
- Tips, links and suggestions: what are you reading this week? - The Guardian - March 18th, 2020
- What Happened to Jordan Peterson? - The New Republic - March 15th, 2020
- Inside the Treatment of Jordan Peterson - InsideHook - March 15th, 2020
- Christopher Booker: Groupthink review an uncritical history of political correctness - The Arts Desk - March 15th, 2020
- 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos: Jordan B ... - March 9th, 2020
- The best recent poetry review roundup - The Guardian - March 9th, 2020
- Jordan Peterson Checks into Rehab Following Wife's Cancer ... - March 9th, 2020
- Jordan Peterson Wife: The Truth About Tammy Peterson - Who - February 28th, 2020
- Podcast giant Joe Rogan coming to Tampas Amalie Arena - Tampa Bay Times - February 28th, 2020
- Is Wall Street on the Brink of Disaster? - Stock Investor - February 28th, 2020
- The Travesty of Comparing Jordan Peterson to Hitler - Merion West - February 25th, 2020
- What Douglas Murray's Book Does Well (And Where It Falters) - Merion West - February 24th, 2020
- Jordan Peterson: the One Who Helped Me When I Most Needed It - Merion West - February 20th, 2020
- 'He could've killed somebody': Victim in Boise 11-car hit-and-run crash reacts to wild video - KTVB.com - February 20th, 2020
- A Controversial Study Claimed To Explain Why Women Dont Go Into Science And Tech. It Just Got A 1,113-Word Correction. - BuzzFeed News - February 20th, 2020
- Feb. 18: The story of Bombardier could have been easily avoided. Readers react to Bombardiers fortunes, facial recognition, Jordan Peterson, plus... - February 20th, 2020
- Meet the Petersons: the controversial family plagued by ill health - Telegraph.co.uk - February 20th, 2020
- Ex-benzodiazepine user relating to Peterson says withdrawal 'hell' needs awareness - The Chronicle Journal - February 20th, 2020
- Jordan Peterson enters rehab after wife's cancer diagnosis - February 9th, 2020
- Jordan Peterson recovering from tranquilizer addiction in Russia - New York Post - February 8th, 2020
- He nearly died several times: Controversial academic Jordan Peterson seeks to recover from addiction, daughter says - Toronto Star - February 8th, 2020