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.