Thursday, September 13, 2007

I had a remarkable experience this week in a chain bookshop (which shall remain nameless, for shame!):

Do you have the latest novel by J.M. Coetzee?

Blank look. Who?

J.M. Coetzee (admittedly I pronounce it the Afrikaans way, which is often mispronounced outside South Africa, so just to be on the safe side I spell it out).

I get a little snippy however when she looks at me as though I'm slightly unhinged. I can clearly hear her thinking 'Who the hell is that? Never heard of him. Difficult customer.'

J.M. Coetzee. He's won the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Booker. Twice. And his latest book has been reviewed in every major paper in the last week (i.e. what sort of bookseller doesn't at least glance through the book review pages?! I didn't actually say that last sentence, but I thought it).

Simultaneous flushes rise up the faces of the three staff now gathered. Clearly they can now also see what I'm thinking of them. Umm. Do you have the title? We can only search by title, not author...


Anonymous David said...

Jim Cootsy? Isn't he that bloke wot writes for Mills & Boon?

6:46 am  
Blogger Suzanne said...

What sort of bookseller doesn't at least glance at the bookpages? Um - that'd be 95% of them, in my experience!

8:41 am  
Blogger francofinn said...

I'm not surprised. A chain bookshop that shall also remain nameless (clue: it starts with a B) have a policy of not recruiting bookpeople. One of the best booksellers I know wasn't hired because she was considered overqualified - can you imagine!

8:41 pm  
Blogger Elaine said...

I was in Toronto last year and I went into a bookshop (also began with a B) and asked where I could find L M Montgomery's journals which I knew were available. WHO asked the assistant. I repeated the name Sorry never heard of her was the reply. Ok I said one of the most famous, if not the most famous Canadian writer, author of Anne of Green Gables. Never heard of them was the reply. Have you heard of margaret Atwood I asked? WHO was the reply. I dumped those books I had already selected on the counter in front of her and said apart from your rudeness, your ignorance is astounding and I have no desire to purchase anything here and I swep out in high dudgeon... whatever that is

4:11 pm  
Blogger Suzanne said...

Further proof if were needed! I was in the newer of Canterbury's twin dreadful bookstores that begin with W. Asked for the "new biography on "Nureyev". Did I know what it was called. "Nureyev" I answered. Looked on computer "There was one published on 1998"
Deep Breath "It's brand new and its being read on Radio 4"
"Do you have the author?"
"Well we haven't got anything in stock..."
I then visited the older W's - where lo and behold there was a huge pile of the book. It was one of the major autumn discounted offers.

5:31 pm  
Blogger kookiejar said...

Looks like that experience is common. I'm always surprised that our bookstore employees don't seem to know anything about books. What gives?

3:58 pm  
Blogger Suzanne said...'s because all the good ones leave to have babies or write books. Right Nic?

6:26 pm  
Blogger Karen said...

Extraordinary, but - as fellow commenters have proved - all too common.

1:56 pm  
Anonymous danielle said...

I've had similar experiences. Don't people who work in bookstores read??

5:12 pm  
Blogger Elaine said...

Might I also say that I worked in a library for ten years and you would be surprised, or not as the case may be, how few librarians actually read. I felt I was in a permanent toy shop with parcels of new books arriving each week. Needless to say I raided these all the time, I had very little competition...

10:57 am  
Blogger StuckInABook said...

Incidentally, what is the Afrikaans pronunciation of Coetzee?

I haven't yet discovered whether my librarian colleagues read much or not - but, then again, they probably think I am a hopeless ignoramus for not reading or knowing anything about Science in a Science Library.

10:00 pm  
Anonymous David said...


Coot (rhymes with foot) see uh



There, now you can be all posh at book launches, and roll your eyes wearily when others get it wrong.

5:55 am  
Blogger francofinn said...

The usual comment when I surprise someone with the book they've been looking for(or I can tell them for sure its OP) is "but, i've been to 3 Waterstones/Borders and none of them knew what I was talking about!"
I want to yell "why didn't you try me first?" Independents always seem to be booksellers of last resort despite the fact the people who run them live for books (and read the book sections) and are usually able to get a book in 24 hours because of they don't have to deal with warehouses or gargantuan deliveries of the latest Jamie Oliver cookbook. I know lots of local independents have closed but a good bookshop is usually worth a trip, or even a phone call.

11:35 am  

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