Sunday, December 4, 2011

Smell You Later

So this post really falls under the heading of General Retail/ Life Rules. I actually wrote it a few years ago, so the two of you who read it then are in for a re-run.

This post was inspired by my new retail job as I have left BookWorld and am temporarily back in Fancy Cooking retail. What really inspired this post is not so much the job as the citiizens of the town I currently work in. Glendale, California is a wholly unique retail experience that I had pretty successfully repressed from the last time I worked there. In the past few weeks it has all come rushing back to me in wave after unpleasant wave. There is a long list of things I have only experienced or experienced on an EXTREME level there. So, without further ado-

BookWench's Retail/Life Rule of the Week -
                     It's A Perfume Spray, not a Marinade

That's right folks - this week's lesson is inspired by the overwhelming number of inconsiderate people I am forced to interact with on a daily basis who feel the need to announce their presence with scent, often minutes before they themselves arrive.  Seriously people - a little dab will do you.  Now that we, as a people, have access to regular showers, deodorant and a dizzying array of bath products the need to douse ourselves in cheap perfume is no longer necessary.  In fact it's kind of aggressive and rude to the people forced to inhale your nauseating stench.  This goes double if your bottle of perfume cost less than $5 or contains the words "Designer Impostors."  Triple if I can smell your perfume from more than a foot away or can still smell it more than a minute after you leave.  Quadruple annoyance points if everything you own, including the credit card you hand me is saturated with your scent.  It's plastic people, it should not be saturated with anything.  And, finally, I should be allowed to ask you to leave my general vicinity and bestow the highest order of annoyance on you if I can TASTE your fragrance if I come within a foot of you.  (I actually had to rinse my mouth out with strong coffee the other night because I could taste a gentleman's cologne on my tongue for a solid hour after he invaded my personal space.) 

Remember - a good perfume should be used as an allure.  A subtle whiff to catch the attention of those around you and create a positive sense memory they can connect with you.  The secret to creating interest is to always leave your audience wanting more. Not to leave everyone in your wake gasping and rushing for the nearest source of fresh air. You do not want the people around you to associate you with funeral homes, Great-aunt Gertrude, or a pounding headache and the fervent hope that lunch stays down.

Please - as a fellow human being I implore everyone, especially the majority population of Glendale, CA*- go easy with the fragrances.  I promise people will still notice you even if they can't smell you coming and going.  Buy better perfume and use just a little, the world will be greatful for your restraint.  And pass this information along to any perfume abusers in your life.

*Proof that it's not just me- After posting this I watched a recent episode of Chuck - "Chuck vs the Frosted Tips" where they make a joke about a character smelling like the Glendale Galleria.  I like it when the TV proves I'm not overly judgmental.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bard Rage Part 2

           To begin I would like to apologize for taking another break in the blog. I've been working on another writing project, one that you'll be able to watch on your magic internet devices in early 2012. It's a really exciting project, and it even ties back in to BookWorld, and I'll be updating about it here as it gets closer to realization.

         As I return to this world I thought I would end the suspense from this previous post*, and present Shakespearian Pet Peeves numbers 4 and 5. I'm so kind, the two people moderately interested in this information are going to be pleased. I decided to combine these two since they don't really warrant an entire post each, but they still fill me with a significant amount of Bard-Nerd rage.

So with out further ado-
BookWench's Shakespearian Pet Peeve # 5 – 
Twilight Re-Branding.

So this exists-

            I understand the business logic- people will pay money for ANYTHING (seriously, anything) provided it says Twilight, Edward, Bella, or Jacob, or if it has the now distinct black, red, and white cover design and font style seen above. And I wasn't that upset when the co-opted Wuthering Heights since both books involve overbearing, controlling men and the women who are slavishly devoted to them, unconcerned with whomever else they hurt along the way. (I told you I had some Bronte issues.) But when you go for my Romeo and Juliet, I'm going to have some issues.

            The only way this becomes okay with me is if you retroactively make the main characters of Twilight kill themselves in the same number of pages given to Romeo and Juliet. (Though that almost seems too nice and quick, as I would like them to die slowly, preferably at my hands.**)

           Seriously Twi-hards, you make my book retail life miserable enough, leave the things I love alone.

BookWench's Shakespearian Pet Peeve #5 - 
“Why isn't Shakespeare in non-fiction with the other history books?”

           I'm sorry foolish customer, but the PLAY about the deposed duke who becomes a wizard and lives on a magical island and controls the spirits there is not a history book. It's a make pretend story. And know it's written in “that old-timey language,”*** but it's still not a history book.

           Even the History Plays aren't a very factual account of what happened. Shakespeare was writing revisionist history to please the monarch currently on the throne, partly because he needed aristocratic patronage, but also because he liked his head firmly attached to his body. So Richard III gets a made-up hunchback and an extra veneer of evil because his defeat allowed the Tudor (and later Stuart) dynasties to exist. So no matter how you slice it Shakespeare does not belong on a shelf with meticulously researched, very dense tomes about the actual history of England. We don't keep Sophocles over there either, and his plays are even older than Bill's.****

           So there you go – two more Shakespearian Pet Peeves (and a Bronte/Twilight peevish bonus!) shared with the world (i.e. the 10 of you who read this blog.) I'm saving the last two for days when I've had more to drink so I don't die of a rage stroke on my keyboard.  Seriously, I've hung up on people, left the room, and yelled at the TV for things related to the top two, unforgivable Shakespeare transgressions.

*Now edited to include a picture of one of the dumbest tattoos ever.
**Yes, I am aware I cannot actually murder fictional characters. But I really want to.  Having said that I am probably now on some sort of Twilight enemies list.  Someone will find me dead with Team Edward Forever written in my blood next to my dead body.
***Actual customer quote
****That's right, we have a friendly nickname-y relationship.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I'll Stick With Leeches and Magic...

In this post I talked about one of my (and my co-workers) least favorite customer groups, the Spoiled Bride. I've decided to expand upon that into a five-part series – BookWench's Least Favorite Customer Types. Before we continue I would like to offer this disclaimer: I realize that not everyone who falls into the groups I discuss are as dumb/ rude/ lazy as the individual examples I'm discussing in these articles. In fact, the reason a lot of these groups stand out or are particularly disturbing is how far to the negative extreme they fall in comparison to the hard-working, intelligent people who share their profession.
And on that note- Annoying Customer Group #4- Clueless Nurses.
I think the reason this particular group stands out so much and becomes so grating on the booksellers' nerves is because talking to someone who deals with life or death situations, but can't figure out how to get to the second floor of a building while standing in front of a staircase and an elevator is kind of terrifying. (Still not making this stuff up.)  It terrified me so much that I while working at the Borders in California I told my friends that under no circumstances was I to be taken to the hospital closest to the bookstore. I would rather take my chances and head to a different hospital then run the risk of being treated by the nurse who couldn't remember the name of the big test you had to take in order to become a nurse. She was convinced it was the RN-SAT, and could not be convinced that is was, in fact, the NCLEX. I can at least take a little comfort in thinking that she wouldn't find a place to take the imaginary test she was looking for and therefore wouldn't become a nurse.
I'm also concerned when I run across a nurse who has found the Health & Medicine section but cannot narrow down which shelves have the nursing books on you. For those of you who don't frequent the section- they're the ones that say NURSING. Or sometimes NURSING REFERENCE. Something with some form of the word “nurse,” clearly typed in large letters affixed to the shelf in question. What do these people do when confronted with the complexities of the human body? They are aware that people aren't labeled, right?
When I step into a medical facility I want to be assured that everyone treating me is much, much smarter than I am where matters of human anatomy and medical treatment are concerned. Which is why it is so troubling when I know more medical terms and references than the people who are studying/ working in the medical field.
The final straw that plants them so firmly in the Least Favorite Customer list is a trait they share with the Spoiled Brides and, in fact, all the groups on the list, they almost always leave a huge mess. And, since a lot of study materials come with flash cards, they leave a huge mess that we then have to take off the shelf and dispose of because we can't sell the open, damaged set of flashcards, or the study guide that they've written in/ spilled coffee on. I understand that school and textbooks and study guides are expensive, but again, try the magical library place, or skip a couple of fancy coffees and buy the book.
Before the lynch mob forms – I have the utmost respect for nurses who are good at what they do, as it an incredibly demanding and often thankless job. And those who do it well are amazing, and I am very impressed by the friends I have who have chosen this profession. They are much nicer people than I am. And I think they should be first in line to shame/ reprimand the people in their profession giving them a bad name by going out in public and asking for the Cliff Notes to Gray's Anatomy - “Because I don't understand the regular version.”

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"[Hamlet] didn't say that. That Polonius guy did…"

As a self-professed, permanently inked Shakespeare nerd it comes as no surprise to anyone that I have quite a few, very specific Bard-related pet peeves. I was going to do a multi-part series of my top five, building up to number one, but this week made me jump straight to number three*: People who quote Polonius as a philosophical role model.
The feelings of rage surfaced this week as I was looking through the archives of fyeahtattoos, because I'm unemployed at the moment and spend far too much time looking at the internet. I started noticing an unhealthy number of people walking around sporting a line from a wholly unlikeable character in an attempt to seem deep and introspective. Two thing Polonius is not.
Polonius is a political animal through and through. He passes his devotion to whomever can give him the most power. He is a professional toady, willing to sacrifice his daughter to help a murderous king get rid of his pesky nephew (and rightful heir to the throne). He gets killed while eavesdropping on a conversation between Hamlet and his mother, which Polonius set up to chastise Hamlet into good behavior. So really people, this is the guy you turn to for your life's philosophy? I'm not saying Hamlet's a much better option, because he's kind of unstable and for a thirty-three year old, acts rather immature at times. Really only Horatio and the Ghost seem to be stable enough to really take direction from. (Laertes has been poisoned by being raised by Polonius, and Fortinbras doesn't really have enough lines to base any life choices on. Though I imagine Elsinore became much more stable and less bloody after he took over.)
Polonius is best known and referenced for the scene in which he is giving advice to his son, Laertes, as he leaves to study abroad. The entire thrust of Polonius' advice is to be selfish, look out for number one, and never let anybody know too much about the real you. Excellent advice for a future sycophantic courtier, but unless you want to become a ruthless CEO (or ruthless CEO's butt-kissing underling), it's maybe not the best advice to follow in your day-to-day life in the modern age.

So- before you throw down at least a hundred bucks to get “To thine own self be true” permanently and prominently placed on your body, consider the source. You're not actually proclaiming to be the most real and honest version of yourself, you're saying I'm always going to put myself first. And that I don't understand what my tattoo actually means, or where it's from, but so many other people have it, it has to be all deep and stuff. (I also have a pet peeve about people getting stupid, generic, flash tattoos.) Anyone with a basic understanding of Shakespeare, Hamlet, or the Queen's English will not be impressed with your professed philosophy. I personally would back away with great haste.
I'll leave all of you with a different option to express a desire to be true to your own morals, philosophies and ideals: go with the Oracle of Delphi and “Know Thyself.” Still classic (in fact it pre-dates Shakespeare), still uses that fancy English, and doesn't reference a nattering buffoon of a character.

Edited to add- I found this tattoo a few days ago.  Misspelled, HUGE, and quoting Polonius.  That is a truly hideous waste of your time and money, and it's there forever. My brain hurts.

*I'll probably go back to four and five, and you will DEFINITLY hear about one and two...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Imaginary, My Dear Watson?

Way back at the beginning of this blog I mentioned that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may, in fact, be the greatest author ever. Now, I'm not saying this as a huge Sherlock Holmes fan. I enjoy the stories, I love the new BBC series , I enjoy the Robert Downey Jr. version and I like the show House (House/Holmes, Wilson/Watson- connect the dots and you end up back on Baker Street), but it's not one of my personal literary obsessions. I still posit that Doyle is an amazing author because of how many people are unaware he exists.
I have spoken to a significant number of people who truly believe that Sherlock Holmes was a real detective, and that either he or Dr. Watson merely transcribed their cases into a narrative format. Much like when an actor loses themself so completely into a role you don't even recognize them from movie to movie, so Doyle loses himself in Holmes. Doyle has managed to imbue his character with so much depth and personality that people forget he's a fictional character.
I even helped one customer who refused to believe that he was fictional, and then looked at me liked I kicked his puppy when I showed him the wikipedia entry talking about Doyle and the character he created. The poor kid was writing a report on Scotland Yard and wanted a biography of their most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. So, not only did I have to explain that people don't really write biographies of fictional characters (and what fictional means), but also that that character was more of an independent contractor than a permanent member of staff at Scotland Yard. It was a long night for both of us.
I also had another customer get mad when she couldn't find any of the books shelved under Holmes in the mystery section. When I explained that we kept the books under the author's name, not the main character's, she informed me that Sherlock Holmes was the author. In fact, Sherlock Holmes was her favorite author. She seemed very subdued when I showed her to the Ds and pointed out the actual author's name. I don't if she was sad because she had to find a new favorite author, or because she was thinking about how many people she had told that her favorite author was a fictional character. I imagine there were some awkward pauses in conversations as people tried to process that information.
So, on that note, I commend Sir Arthur and the amazing longevity and power of his character. Since the public outcry that forced him to resurrect the character from death through the (literally) hundred years of film and TV versions, Sherlock Holmes has never been out of the collective public knowledge. I highly recommend taking a literary trip to Baker Street and revisit an amazing character and his faithful friend. (Then go watch Benedict Cumberbatch bring Holmes to the modern age, because it's amazing.)

BookWench is currently reading Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher. If you're a SciFi fan and you haven't read his Harry Dresden series I cannot recommend them enough.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Pet Peeves

I realize that with what I am about to type I am not going to make many friends, and in fact may make some people angry. However, one of my most annoying personality traits is that even if my opinion will make me unpopular, I'll still voice it. Feel free to yell at me in the comments...
We're a Bookstore, Not a.....PetsMart
One of my biggest pet peeves is animals in people places. Unless that place is specifically designed to cater to animals, or has expressed some sort of pro-animal, pet-positive attitude, I really feel that the furry things should stay outside.
Now- to clarify – I do not hate animals. I currently live with a cat, and my roommates and I are puppy shopping. I tend to make ridiculous, high pitched noises in pet stores at the various small furry things that I want to take home and cuddle. I regularly shopped at a bookstore that owned one very well-behaved cat, and I liked browsing the bottom shelves with the shop cat on my lap. And I enjoy seeing dogs out on walks and playing in the park. It's adorable. So please don't think I spend my spare time kicking puppies and throwing things at kittens. I don't.
However- when I am at work in a bookstore I should not have to clean up dog poop. I shouldn't have to shout over the sound of your dog barking, or on one occasion, someone's parrot squawking from their shoulder. And if your dog is being carried around in a purse that cost more than I make in a month, I should be allowed to openly laugh at you. Then perhaps kick you. Not everyone likes animals, and most people assume that going in to non-pet related stores means that they won't have to deal with the huge dog in the cooking section getting too close. I had one little girl leave the store I worked at in tears because she was scared of dogs and the other customer refused to leave her “baby” giant lab out in the car.
The incident that turned this annoyance into a rage-inducing pet peeve was when a customer came up to me for help with a giant snake wrapped around his body and slithering out of the neckline of his shirt. I am not ashamed to admit that when the snake popped his head out and started angling towards me I screamed like a little girl and ran to the back room as the snake's owner laughed at me. I refused to come out until he was gone and have had a strong(er) resentment towards animals in people places ever since.

Now- I will make an exception for service animals. That's a completely valid reason to have a dog with you at all times. I will also allow any animals that possess the ability to read for themselves. If your cat needs a copy of Crime and Punishment to round out his Russian collection, then by all means bring him in. (Then explain to me how you haven't capitalized on your pet's amazing abilities.) However, I have yet to find a justification for Princess FiFi, your incessantly yapping pet cotton ball with legs, spending time in a bookstore.

And – in case it was unclear – there will be no (non-service) animals allowed in Bibliophiles. (Except for the basement full of attack ponies.)

BookWench just finished reading Throne Of Fire – The Kane Chronicles 2 by Rick Riordan, and I'm now in the library looking for more books on Egyptian mythology.

Monday, August 22, 2011

I Come to Bury Caesar...

Before we get into the thrust of the post I want to apologize for taking the last couple of weeks off. I have been packing and moving myself across the country. I'm back on the west coast, living in a reverse Three's Company situation. I'm sure the trials of living with two guys will come up later, or possibly spin off into a new blog called What is That Smell?. I'm still a little stressed and out of sorts, but I'm ready to hop back into the world of BookWench.  And now back to our regularly scheduled program...

As anyone who's looked at any sort of book/business news in the past few months well knows Borders Books filed for bankruptcy and is now in the process of shutting down their hundreds of stores across the country. It's caused a lot of mixed emotions for me, as I worked for that company through college and for many, many years afterward. I worked at three of their stores, in three different cities, and it played a significant part in my adult life. And, as awful and annoying as most of the stories I tell from those stores are, I am sad to see it all come to an end.

I am not, however, surprised. As I got higher up in the management echelons of the company the cracks in the logic and flaws in the plan became larger and clearer. It's never a good sign for a business when one of their employees with a Theatre degree can point out their poor fiscal decisions. (Seriously, I haven't taken a class that involved math since my senior year of high school, and I could see that the numbers were not adding up in a positive way.) We all knew the ship was sinking, it was only a matter of when the final wave would take it under, and honestly, it lasted much longer than any of us really expected it to.

As with any company I saw a lot of things go wrong (most of which have/will appear on this blog.) I worked for some truly terrible managers, saw some really bad decisions being made, and saw the company drift away from the love of unique books and intelligent staff that had made them a success in the first place. But despite all of that, it had moments of being a great place to work.

I made so many amazing friends at those stores, even dated a few, and now live with two more. So I owe Borders a debt of gratitude for that alone. I don't think the company ever learned how valuable an asset they had on their sales floor. Every store I worked at had a really unique, weird, crazy staff that loved books. And between the lot of us you could usually find one staff member who had an insane amount of devotion and knowledge for a specific section of the store making for a better resource than Amazon's algorithms could ever hope to be. I'm not saying every staff member in every store was brilliant or patient or hard-working, but a significant number of us were, and the shift away from hiring smart people to hiring anyone really hurt them. And it was a clear shift. You could almost pinpoint the date they did away with asking book questions during the interview process. Occasionally a good one would slip through, but the awesome quirky book nerds were slowly replaced with generic retail drones.

And those people managed to infiltrate the corporate end as well. Borders was founded on this weird combination of large chain and indy bookstore ideas. They prided themselves on being quirky, and having a move varied and interesting stock than their major competitors. And it was awesome. The ease of a large store, but one that carried that weird Bukowski book, or had an extensive philosophy section. But when the plague of generic took over, and someone decided to dismiss everything that made Borders unique, it became just another place to drink coffee and pick up the latest James Patterson novel. Instead of taking pride in offering over 100,000 different titles in each store, the goal became to pack in as many copies of the 100 most popular titles. And at that point, why bother? If I can't tell the difference between one chain and another, why would I go out of my way to remain a loyal customer? There's a reason we have so many fast-food burger places existing together, and it's because I can't get McDonald's fries at Wendy's, and I can't get a Whopper at Sonic. Instead Borders took the path most travelled by, and it unfortunately led them to their demise.

I feel fortunate to have spent a few of the better years there. I learned so much, and I met such amazing people. As I sat in my new living room last night and looked at the three amazing people there with me I was saddened by the thought that the place that brought us all together didn't exist any more. And it's sad that the world lost a place to go and buy actual books. So I felt compelled to write this eulogy of sorts, and say goodbye to the company that led me to the place of writing this blog.

As always, I encourage everyone to support their local, three-dimensional bookstores. Find an awesome independent bookstore and go and enjoy a place where knowledge is readily available for purchase, and where the quirky weirdos with random arts, history, and English degrees go to find work and create a unique collective of ideas. Otherwise, we'll just be out on the streets making trouble, and the books will sit unread, and the Idiocracy will creep ever closer..
If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking. 
- Haruki Murakami

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Why My Liver Hates Sales....

As I mentioned in this previous post during sale weekends I keep my sanity by promising myself many, many adult beverages after work time is over. I keep a running tally on my left hand of how often I am asked the three most annoying sales questions. The questions also change depending on the type of sale and I limit my self to the top three so I don't end up dead of alcohol poisoning. I've included a comprehensive list below, and for the sanity of any retail worker during a sale, I ask that you really think twice before using any of them:

  1. Is that with the sale discount? This comes after I have given the person their total. There is a simple way to figure this out: Is the total less than the sum of the items you've purchased? Yes - Then I took off the discount. This one is especially disturbing if they're only buying one item.
  2. Is this item on sale? This question is usually asked by someone standing next to/ under/ leaning on a huge sign declaring EVERYTHING IN STORE 20% OFF. I'm always tempted to say no, they've managed to find the one item that's not on sale.
  3. Can I use this other coupon/ teacher's discount on top of the sale? No. As it clearly states on the coupon/teacher discount card/ sale signs you cannot combine the sale with other discounts. I will give you the one that saves you the most money, but let's not get too greedy. I also find that this question is asked most often by the person carrying a stack of $1 clearance items. Seriously?!
  4. Will you make sure the coupon is off the highest price item? a) The coupon states that the discount will come off the highest priced item b) Do you really think you're the only person in the 10 years the company has been running this promotion that wants the discount on the most expensive item? We've thought it through. c) And yes- I can tell which one is the highest priced item without you pointing it out. I'm pretty good with numbers.
  5. Can I use more than one coupon today? No. I hate rule-breakers. It says one per customer, you get to use one. I'm not going to stand here and do ten different transactions to validate your cheating.

Finally – I take a double shot for any person who tries to use the coupon before the date clearly and largely printed on it. Or anyone who wants the sale to start early for them because they don't want the bother of coming back during the sale and dealing with the crowds. I would like to remind these people that they are not beautiful and unique snowflakes, and the rules do, in fact, apply to them. If you don't want to fight the crowds, you have to pay full price.

Now- if you'll excuse me I have to restock my vodka supply as last week's coupon sale depleted it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Knowledge is Power

As my self-granted title of BookWench would indicate, I am well aware that I am not always the nicest, most patient person in the world. According to my family I have inherited what's lovingly referred to as The Bitch Gene. It's generally given to various outspoken, strong-willed, temperamental women in our family. It's a mark of pride there, but out in the real world it tends to cause some issues.

One of the major problems it causes for me in retail work is that I don't suffer fools for very long. And I don't appreciate being spoken to like I'm an idiot, especially since it's coming from people who need my help because they've never heard of the book Huckleberry Finn and have no idea where we would keep it. Since I'm not allowed to physically hurt people because of fear of legal prosecution, I'm forced to rely on beating them down with superior intelligence.

My favorite tactic, and one that several of my well-educated co-workers employ as well, is to use unnecessarily large words to answer questions or glean more information from the customer. One of our go-to favorites is asking a customer if the flowery sounding self-help title they're looking for is of a secular or non-secular bent.* That invariably ends with a confused look and a quiet request for definitions for the big scary words we've just used.

Another favorite of mine is the word colloquialism. This one usually comes up when someone asks for a translation of Mark Twain, or Shakespeare, or anything else written more than 10 years ago that doesn't pander to lowest common denominator. This question annoys/ angers me on so many levels that I'm fairly certain one day hate lasers will actually come out of my eyes because of it. So, to calm the rage monster, I explain that you cannot, in fact, translate English to English, and the only thing that really changes (especially from Twain) are the colloquialisms of the time. I don't know if it's the palpable rage, or the big scary word, but that usually shuts people up.

Another favorite trick is proper pronunciation. If you come up to me and ask me a question in a condescending way while mispronouncing the title or author you're looking for, I will proceed to correct your pronunciation as often as I can during the course of our interaction. You want Goethe's Faust? Did you talk to me as if I'm a three year old? I will be shoving the proper German pronunciation down your throat until you choke on it. (Again, I am aware that I am sometimes very mean. At least I've stopped throwing large appliances at people. And, yes, I'm being serious.)

Finally, the intellectual pissing contest reaches a peak with books with the same title. Most of the time it's some smug dude asking for The Art of War, who often feel the need to preface the question by calling me sweetie. This is NEVER a good idea with me, as there's no way to say it to an adult stranger without sounding patronizing. So my response is always “Sun-Tzu or Machiavelli?” I know they want the Sun-Tzu, as very few people are aware that Machiavelli wrote one as well. Moreover, since most people looking for the Art of War have no idea what it actually is, or who wrote it, they tend to freeze because they have no idea which one they want. All they know is that they think they will look both intelligent and manly by reading it. Having read it, I can guarantee that 98% of the people I've sold that book to will not make it past the chapter about the most strategic placement of your horses in relation to your archers.

Just remember – just because we work in retail doesn't mean we're stupid. (Some of us are, don't get me wrong. I work with a handful of mental midgets right now who would be confused by this post. In fact, one of them used the word “currenter” today when describing the age of textbooks.) So before you assume that you're asking one of the idiots a question bear in mind that fear of jail time is all that's keeping the smart ones from causing you bodily harm.

*If Arrested Development taught us nothing else they taught us the difference between secular and non-secular (“Meet the Veals”)...and that chickens don't clap.

BookWench is currently reading Mad Queens and Kings by Alison Rattle and Allison Vale, because insane people with ultimate power are always an entertaining read.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Quote of the Week

"I didn't like Uncle Tom's Cabin because Jane Austen is a horrible writer."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

“Let's start with a few Latin terms...”

No, the Latin (and Greek) terms I'll be discussing today aren't nearly as much fun as the ones the Vicomte de Valmont* was teaching in the above quote, but I'm guessing maybe three people knew what I was quoting anyway. Today BookWench school is in session, and the words of the day are:
             Bibliography and Biography

These are, in fact, two different words, with two very different meanings, but at least once a month I am forced to explain the difference. One woman proceeded to yell at me for 15 minutes because I couldn't direct her to the bibliography section. She insisted that I was the idiot for not knowing where the bibliography of Barbra Streisand was, which only makes me more obstinately refuse to help her until she concedes that I am right. And yes, I am aware that I could just assume that they mean biography, and meekly take them to the right section, but I am the BookWENCH, and I demand that people use the right words, because stupidity triumphs when smart people say nothing. I am merely doing my small part to fight the inevitable Idiocracy.

So as a quick summation -
Bibliography – list of books in the back of a published work/ research paper that the author used as references in the work. Biblio – from the Greek biblion meaning book.

Biography – a book written about a specific person by another person. Not to be confused with and Autobiography which is written by the subject of the book. (This is another fight I have all the time with people) Bio -meaning life, like in Biology.

I realize that most people reading this blog will not, I hope, need those definitions, as you are all intelligent and beautiful people with excellent taste in blogs. This is merely a tool you can all use to help educate the masses on proper use of literary terms. So next time you're out and about, or working in a bookstore, or just want to lord your superior intelligence over others, you can refer them here or reference the great and powerful BookWench to support your own vast knowledge.
So go forth an educate the world, so I don't have to kill the next person who comes in demanding a bibliography of George Lincoln, the president that freed the slaves. (Yes, that really happened.)

* I couldn't find a good clip, so you'll just have to go watch all of Dangerous Liaisons. It's amazing.  You'll thank me later.

BookWench is currently re-reading The Joy Luck Club and The Crucible to help out an English teacher friend of mine. They are both wonderful works, so it's not really a hardship.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Jamie Madrox Doesn't Have That Many Wallets

This title for my third and final installment of my accessories series may be a stretch. I'm not sure if superhero Jamie "Multiple Man" Madrox's wallets multiply as he does, but it was a fun and obscure character to reference. And it really sells the point that I am a giant nerd, because that's not the most well-known Marvel pull.
Now that I've covered the title, and started some physics of superpowers debates, we can move on to my third and final wallet/purse pet peeve – Multiple Wallet Syndrome. I think my annoyance at this (and the previously mentioned accessory phenomena) is magnified by the fact that I hate large purses and having to cart around too much stuff. My female friends tease me because you could fit a large percentage of my purse collection inside one of their purses. So this large purse/ overstuffed wallet/ multiple wallet thing just does not compute for me.
I have also decided that this is a predominately Texas retail issue. When I lived in New York people tended to be a little more streamlined because you're walking everywhere and don't need any extra weight to schlep around the city. In L.A everyone lives out of their car so you leave the bulk of your personal belongings there (except for your credit card and the cell phone permanently attached to your face.) However, true blue Texans like things big, especially if it's unnecessarily large. So, at least once a week I am confronted with the customer who waits until I've rung up everything to pull out anywhere from 3-5 wallets to come up with a payment option.
And here's the breakdown of the content of these wallets:
  1. Paper Money
  2. Checkbook and ID (Texans are still hanging on to the checks – there's a future rant there)
  3. Change
  4. Credit cards/ other plastic cards
  5. Coupons

The tears really start to flow when the same customer has a coupon, a gift card, and wants to pay the balance in both paper money and coins (Because they have exact change. They're lugging around a five pound bag of change for these occasions.) That's four different wallets for one transaction. That is three too many. And, not only do I have to deal with this mess, but also the anger of any customer stuck behind them. And, when I'm on the other side of the counter the angriest customer in the line is me – but I direct my wrath at the idiot holding up the line, not the poor cashier who is also plotting this customer's slow and painful death. Probably from millions of coupon paper-cuts, or smothered under a pile of wallets.
I once timed a customer who had six different wallets/ plastic baggies used as wallets. It took her 16 minutes to pay for her $7 worth of books. In the time it took her to dig through every wallet and her purse I had moved to another register and rung up the five customers after her in line. I can't imagine she has much time to enjoy the things she buys since she apparently spends half her life trying to complete the payment process.

So to sum up my feelings on money-bearing accessories: keep it small, clean and under control.  And to prove I practice what I preach, here is a picture of the inside of my one and only wallet:

BookWench is currently re-reading the Harry Potter books in preparation for tomorrow night's midnight double feature extravaganza.  I am stupidly excited about it.  I can't wait for the final battle and Mrs.Weasley's moment of mama lion fury!  

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

We're a Bookstore, Not A….

Welcome to a new feature here at BookWench, where I discuss various things that should not be expected of bookstores/ booksellers, but nevertheless are demanded from us.

First up – We're a bookstore not a...BABY- SITTING SERVICE.

Now – I am not saying don't bring kids to the store. I actually like dealing with quite a few of our under-12 customers because they haven't lost their enthusiasm for reading or their ability to let their imaginations run wild. It's kind of fun to find a kid a book they will love, and hopefully set them on a course to being a lifetime reader.  

Unfortunately their parents, who are adults and should therefore know better, have a tendency to treat bookstores like a free daycare. Which we are not. Most of us can barely keep track of our coffee mugs, pricing guns, and large carts full of books, much less a stranger's child we were unaware we were in charge of. At the major chain bookstore I worked at in California we had a woman leave her child in our kids section for eight hours a day while she went to work. Or at least she did until CPS got involved. . I also spent an hour at work one day in Manhattan following around a barely-able-to-walk toddler so she didn't fall down the escalator, or somehow make it outside into the insane downtown New York traffic. Her parents were unaware that she had left the area. For an hour. It terrifies me every time I think about it. Seriously people, retail establishments are not places to leave small children unattended. People will steal anything from us.
What really makes all of this grating on the retail worker is how mad parents get when you inform them that they have to stay with their children at all times. It's apparently a really confusing concept that parents are responsible for the tiny people they have brought into this world, and that the minimum wage, over-worked retail employees are not there to provide free daycare while you shop or run errands or go to work. Unless you want to pay my going baby-sitting rate (which is more than my hourly bookstore rate) I'm not going to watch your kids. For the most part we booksellers, as a group, are not appropriate child care workers. A lot of the time we're too hungover for that sort of responsibility. Plus, we tend to use adult language and naughty innuendo. (We have to stave off the rage somehow.)
I've also noticed that it is a bookstore specific problem – I never had anyone leave their kid at the Fancy Cooking Store. That would have been a better option as it had a predominately older female staff, most of whom had kids of their own. Plus, we could have at least fed the kid. I often wonder if Target has this problem. In fact, “Does this happen at Target?” may become another regular series of posts...

As a general rule, if you wouldn't leave your purse or wallet alone in our store, maybe you shouldn't leave your children.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Not While You're Shopping Under My Roof

It's been a while since we took a visit to my imaginary bookstore, Bibliophiles, so I thought we'd stop by. Today we'll be looking at a couple of things that aren't there. (That's right, we're being very deep and philosophical today.)
There are some things in BookWorld that I don't enjoy being forced to sell. Now, I'm not saying they should be banned or censored or burned, because I totally, passionately believe in every one's personal freedom of speech. However, I personally don't like some of the things that I cross paths with, and since it's my imaginary bookstore, and I am queen, I don't have to sell them. You're more than welcome to buy them at your local Barnes & Borders.
First on that list – CliffsNotes (Or Spark Notes. Or Monarch Notes.) I realize that they were originally intended to be a study aide to help people understand the scholarly interpretations, complex plots, or historical context of great works of literature, and I somewhat condone their use in those situations, but you still have to buy it elsewhere. Now, of course, CliffsNotes are a way to half-ass your way through great works of literature without having to do too much scary reading. Not in my bookstore. Read the actual book or face the wrath of my attack ponies.
Second – No magazine section. I may stock a few copies or Bookmarks, Publisher's Weekly, and Mental Floss, but you cannot buy Cosmo at Bibliophiles. In every bookstore I've worked at magazines require the most work for the least amount of monetary (or literary) gain. I honestly don't know why most places still stock them. No one ever puts them back, they read them and spill coffee on them, they tear pages, and then they never buy any. Most of the clean up after Borders closed at night took place in the magazine section.
Third- Nothing that makes noise. I've already made my opinion known about noisy toys, but my bookstore will also not stock noisy books. Sorry kids, I will happily sell you any Winnie-the-Pooh book that doesn't come with a very loud noise making element. Someone else will have to teach you what sound the cow makes.
Fourth – Any non-book item that I cannot in some way relate to books. Bookmarks, pens, notebooks, highlighters- all fine. I use all of those things when I'm reading. In fact the Post-It Flag display in Bibliophiles will be front and center, and probably constantly depleted by me. But no one has been able to explain the necessity for a pink flocked reindeer. Which I have been forced to sell in a bookstore. (No, really)
Finally (for today's tour at least) – No food or drinks sold or offered for free. I have had to throw away too many things after someone spilled coffee on them. One of those things was an original pressing of The Beatles White Album on vinyl that a gentleman managed to ruin by spilling a large coffee into one of our locked cases where we had it stored. I may have teared up as I tossed that into the garbage. I know it's great to kick back and enjoy a great book with a hot beverage, but in my world you do that after you've purchased the book. And again, Bibliophiles is for book lovers, most of whom respect the idea of keeping liquids far away from books.
There are many more things that won't be allowed in my hallowed book grounds, but I feel like that's a good start. Come back soon – leave your coffee outside.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Quote of the Week

"Do you have Adolf Huxley's Brave New World? "
            Sure, right next to Aldus Hitler's Mein Kampf

It is really amusing to imagine a literary mash-up of those two books….

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What is the Flight Velocity of an Unladen Swallow?

Over the past few years I have answered what seems like a googolplex of questions within the confines of various bookstores. Most are book related, a hefty percentage are the same question or type of question, and far too many of them are insane, inane, and rage inducing. Then there are the questions that strike fear into my heart either because of the depth of their stupidity, their insult to things I hold dear, or the fact that no matter what answer I give the customer is going to get mad at me. The first of the unspeakable questions falls into the last category. It always leads to at least a 15 minute conversation and ends with both the customer and I close to tears of frustration. Here it is:
Can you recommend a book to me? Really just anything.
Nope. No. I can't. Because it's never just anything. You're never as broad a reader as you claim to be. I read all over the genres, and have probably hit at least one book in every section of the bookstore I work in, but if someone were to recommend a Nicholas Sparks book to me I would seriously re-think my relationship with them.
So – I hear the dreaded question. My response is always the same: “What sort of things do you like to read?”
Now – if the customer can give me two or three topics, authors, titles that they like we can save this conversation. I can usually make a recommendation, or I can find the co-worker with similar reading tastes and they can handle it. This rarely happens. More often it continues down this line:
I don't know. I read anything.”
No you don't. If I take you at your word and recommend the great book on the relationship between Queen Elizabeth and Robert Dudley that I found fascinating chances are you will look at me like I am nuts. Same goes if I suggest a Chuck Palahniuk book. Or, because I'm feeling trapped by this question, The Story of O. Reading is an intensely personal experience. Yes, occasionally a publishing phenomenon will put a majority people on the same page, but I can't even recommend Harry Potter to everyone, because lots of people don't like it, for whatever reason. Same goes for me. James Patterson is one of the top selling authors in the country. He puts out ten books a year. I would rather read a tool supply catalogue than one of his books.
So after I've made my first two or three “anything” suggestions I try to narrow down the customer's tastes once again. And, again, even after the many failed recommendations, they're still not going to give me anything to work with. That's when, much to my personal distaste, I look the person up and down and make a judgement based on physical clues as to what they might like, but cannot or will not verbalize. I feel bad about it, but at this point I can tell what a lot of people are looking for before they ask me anything just by what they're wearing, their general location in the store, and the expression on their face. I've also found that the publishing world occasionally makes my life easier by being able to match people's clothing to a book cover. (This tactic works far more often than I really feel comfortable with. It's kind of terrifying.)
After all this walking, talking, questioning, color-coordinating, and mini-oral book-reports, the customer and I have either settled for a book or have realized the futility of it all and silently walked away from each other, tired and frustrated. I always feel bad, and it almost always ends this way. I know I'm all kinds of snarky and mean on this blog, but I genuinely love books. I love introducing my favorite books and authors to other people, and matching people up with the right book for them. However, I cannot help people who cannot form the most basic of opinions on what they are shopping for. No one can. I have seen groups of booksellers freeze, then scatter when someone asks the dreaded recommendation question.
So- in closing- whatever your opinions on various books, genres, authors are- own those opinions and don't be afraid to express them. And if you can't form an opinion on your own, please don't ask me to guess or make one up for you. Because my recommendation is going to be to find a library, grab a huge stack of wildly different books and start reading. Come back to me when you've found a few you like.

One reads as one dreams, defecates and masturbates-alone.” - John Sutherland How to Read a Novel (Which is an excellent book about books and how we read them.)

BookWench is currently reading Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan