Sometimes when I visit a bookstore I’m not only visiting for the books on the shelves. There are times when the rewards of a visit are in the customers you find in the store itself. There aren’t very many, and sometimes none at all, when I go into my local shop. But when there is someone or a group of people, it’s always entertaining to keep an eye on them.
Is this stalking? Well, somewhat maybe. But it’s more observing, people watching, taking in the atmosphere rather than stalking. Readers are some of the most interesting people you’ll come across in your life. What better place to find them than in a bookstore. And not one of those stores that only sell new books. I don’t have any interesting stories to share about someone I saw in a Barnes & Noble. For some reason the stories about the people I’ve come across all take place among shelves filled with used books. Maybe it’s the smell of decaying paper. Maybe it’s the low price of the titles that draw them in. Whatever it is, here are a few memorable encounters I’ve had over the years.
One of these encounters happened maybe two years ago. I was going about my business, looking at the poetry section. This is a small little alcove (one bookshelf against the wall and another on the left side creating a corner; the right side is another “wall” created by a smaller shelf). I like to cram myself into this little space because it’s filled with volumes of poetry, many of them are old copies; my favorite kind. Aside from holding some great books, this is a great place to hide your face. From the outside other customers will really only see your back. On this occasion it probably saved me from A LOT of embarrassment.
While I was looking through the books, I heard a group of girls walk into the store. And I really do mean I heard them. They were talking loudly, obnoxiously, and about nothing that seemed to matter. They were the typical college freshmen that I’ve encountered many times over the years. This alone isn’t very uncommon. It normally ruins the nice quiet atmosphere of the shop, but on this day, it was rewarding.
So, they walk over to the children’s section – that’s actually the first place I go to normally as well, so it wasn’t a maturity thing. Well maybe in their case it was – and start talking about the books, making fun of each other, and the like. I’m trying to drown out the conversation and enjoy my time.
Soon the conversation leads to them trying to figure out the price of a certain book. This is always funny to hear, at least personally I think it is. The first blank page of every book (aside from paperbacks that are $1) has the price in pencil on the top right corner of the page. Basically you open the book and you almost always see the price before anything else. But they didn’t see this since I think they were holding a dollar paperback book.
To remedy the issue, one of the girls in the group walks behind me and toward the nearby religious section. Searching the shelves is an older gentleman, the only other customer in the store. The girl say something along the lines of “Excuse me, can you tell me how much this book is?” In reply the gentleman said, “Sorry, I don’t work here. I’m just a priest. But the price is usually…” blah blah blah. He explains where the price normally is in the books. I didn’t mention that the man was dressed as a priest normally is. All done up in nice black pants, shirt, and his COLLAR! Everything about him screamed PRIEST, and he was even in the religion section.
Was this funny for you? I found it hilarious because I knew exactly what would happen once the girl walked behind me. I exchanged a look with the priest after she walked back to the group, and we were both amused. For the rest of their stay, the girl was very embarrassed and I just tucked in into my memories as an amusing story to share…with all of you 🙂
This next story happened only two weeks ago. It’s not as funny as the last (if you thought that was funny to begin with :P). It’s more a story that might touch your heart just so, if you’re one of “those” kind of people.
It was a busy day at the bookstore, which means there were upwards of four people there. I was looking at the sci-fi/fantasy/horror section, minding my own business. An older couple was walking around looking at the books. The wife was at one end of a long bookshelf and the husband was only a few feet from me on the other side of the bookshelf/wall.
“Hey, do you have a copy of Corelli’s Mandolin?” the husband calls out to his wife.
“Yes, I already have it. That was a great book.” she calls back in response.
“Ok, I just found a copy back here and wasn’t sure if you had it.”
Why am I telling this story? It’s just a couple looking at books right? Well it’s a little more than that. Over the last few months, when my girlfriend is visiting, both of us have gone to my local and a few other bookstores regularly. Almost every time we’re browsing, one of us seems to run into this very book, Corelli’s Mandolin. Neither of us have really looked at the book to know what it’s about and we’ve left it there among the other unpurchased books.
One day we noticed there were two copies, and a third on any given day, just staring at us. It was an inside joke to ask the other if they wanted Corelli’s Mandolin. I think we were waiting for the other to crack and buy the book. Well After months of this joking, I decided to buy the book next time I had my girlfriend in the store.
This couple reminded me of the relationship I have and how we’d try to find books for each other. Because of this couple, my girlfriend now has a copy of the book, and it may stand as a symbol that other couple’s like us exist. We may very well grow old together scouring the shelves for other books with meaning, like Louis de Bernieres’ book has become.
Here were only two stories of the people who frequent used bookstores. I have many more, and will probably encounter more people to talk about as the years go by. Some have been humorous, while other’s touch your heart for the good or bad. Many of my best people watching moments have happened in bookstores. What are some of the things you’ve seen yourself?