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Ha ha. Yes. Very funny. Let's go into bookstores and torment the underpaid staff, then mock them in print for being stupid!

This bugs the hell out of me. I remember the daily soul-crushing humilities of being a lowly, minimum-wage-earning recent graduate toiling away at Chain Bookstore #2 -- anyone who ever complains about retail staff should spend a week trying desperately to be gracious and helpful while being insulted, ignored, shoved against bookshelves (not me, my manager) and yelled at by people who ask things like "How come your travel section doesn't have any books on Holland?" and then, after being told to look under N for Netherlands, reply "No, I said Holland."

So, the Guardian played their fun little game of Stump the Bookstore Chump and now they can all feel superior and smug in their special British way. If British bookstores are anything like American ones, they offer little else but low-paying jobs for students and recent graduates who think working in a bookstore will be cool. It isn't. And, honestly, is it fair for middle-aged reporters to ridicule a bunch of 23-yr-olds for not yet having read the entire oeuvre of Anthony Trollope? Even the cleverest grad student doesn't know the plot synopsis of every book ever. How well-read were these cranks when they were kids? And why not spend their apparently considerable free time going after the stores' management, which as a rule doesn't give a shit about properly training their employees or hiring well-read help because it would be too expensive in the short-term?

While it's all very humorous to ask if the Naked Chef wrote "The Naked Lunch," the average bookseller is required (if she wants to keep her job) to smile and be polite when complete fucking imbeciles ask questions like "Do you have that book I saw on TV? I don't know the title or the author but it was on that one show and it's about families. I think the cover is blue," or "Does 'The Anarchist Cookbook' have recipes for kids?" or "Who wrote 'The Diary of Anne Frank'?'' (seriously) when what these people really need is a serious throat-punching.

So if you love me, you'll do this when you shop: Leave the help alone. Don't ask questions unless you know what you want (or, don't get angry when you don't know and they can't figure it out). Don't yell at them. If you have a problem, talk to the managers or owners who actually have the power to make changes instead of the folks on the bottom rungs who are just trying to do their jobs. And, for fuck's sake, don't ask for Henry Miller's "astrology" books because you think you're funny. Seriously. Grow up.

And support your local bookstores!

Replies: 1 Confession

This is a tactic that they didn't teach me in journalism school - baiting salesclerks for a story. No wonder I didn't get that job at the Times.

however, in the case of the first clerk, who was confronted with an obviously stupid customer, I think he acted admirably by not ridiculing her into next tuesday. james joyce isn't exactly known for his punctuation in Ulysses, for fuck's sake.

That's the kind of person you help as best you can, then go back into the stockroom and laugh about with your coworkers, isn't it?

heather @ 05/08/2002 09:39 AM CST


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