Friday, May 11, 2007


When booksellers get together what do we talk about? Books? Yes, sometimes - I remember waking up on a floor after a party and discovering that everyone in the room had read Gitta Sereny's book about Albert Speer - but our favourite topic of conversation is probably the weird people that frequent our shops. I'm not talking about the customers. They usually come in, browse for a while and buy a book, which doesn't make a great anecdote. However in addition to customers, all bookshops have loyal clientele of regular browsers who managed to visit the shop every day without ever buying a book.

We have nicknames for all of our browsers. In one shop I worked in our regulars included 'Crying Man' who always looked as if he was on the verge of bursting into tears, 'Reading Man' who ran everywhere and kept wiping the sweat from his brow with a handkerchief and 'Chess Man' who read our chess books and stubbornly refused to leave when the shop closed. In another we had a woman who came in every morning to check her horoscope and managed to break the spines of the books to the point where we couldn't sell them.

In my current shop we have 'Shuffling Man', who displays an unhealthy interest in the Children's section and a man who I identified yesterday as 'Weird Arm Man'. His right arm is very strange indeed. The veins are all thick and look like someone has stuck long sausages to his skin. Also, when he reads he holds the book about an inch away from his nose. Yesterday at 5.30 I walked through the shop and checked that it was empty. 'No customers left.' I announced in a loud voice 'Even Weird Arm Man' has gone. But he hadn't. He was crouching down next to the Erotica section reading Schoolgirl Lust. I think he heard me.

I thought that it was an unwritten rule that if you wanted to use your local bookshop as a library, you would do them the courtesy of occasionally buying a book (even if it's only once a year), but our browsers seem ignorant of this convention. Therefore, I have decided to write a simple constitution for browsers. If you're a browser, obey these rules and we'll stop hating you:

  1. Buy a book, however cheap, at least once a year
  2. Never bend the spine of a book
  3. Always put books back where you found them
  4. Be as unobtrusive as possible - don't stop a bookseller from doing their job
  5. Leave at least ten minutes before the shop closes
  6. Never stay longer than an hour
  7. Don't stand too near the till area - we don't like feeling as if we're being observed
  8. Don't smell
  9. Never ask any questions unless you seriously intend to buy a book
  10. Never hinder a genuine customer from browsing
Those are the ten golden rules in Steerforth Books. I understand that the dispossessed are naturally drawn to bookshops and who knows, one day I may join their ranks. But if you're going to frequent a bookshop without intending to buy anything, please observe the basic etiquette.


Gonçalo Veiga said...

I subscribe it!

Gonçalo Veiga said...

P.S. By the way! I saw links in your blog yesterday but didn't get to comment the funny way description about each one of us! And now they're not there anymore! :(

Bouvard said...

It seems, that nothing changed since I left the world of bookshops some 15 years ago :-)
Barbara / Germany