An incomplete list of absolutely NOT dumb questions to ask a bookseller

While some operate under the assumption that working at a bookstore largely consists of keeping one’s nose in a book, setting it down (open, face-down, as a return to reading is imminent) occasionally to ring up a customer purchase and, perhaps, shelve a book or two, the truth is we spend much of our day answering questions posed by you, our customers. Many of those questions are presented almost apologetically, with the implied preface “I recognize this may be a dumb question, but…” Others are more direct, preemptively begging pardon with a preamble along the lines of, “this may be a really stupid question, but…”

I’m here to set your mind at ease.

Wait…what? No. Oh no no no. I’m not here to comfort you with the reassurance that there are no dumb questions to ask a bookseller. There are. For sure. But we get them rarely enough that its best you not even concern yourself with them. You’re not the one asking them.

No. I’m here to provide an incomplete list of common, absolutely, 100% NOT dumb questions for a bookseller.

  1. “Can you help me find [book title]?”

Well of course I will! It’s kind of one of the main reasons I’m here. While finding a book by William Faulkner is relatively easy (look in Fiction under “F”), some items are trickier than others and different bookstores sort some titles differently. Most importantly, sometimes books aren’t where they’re supposed to be. We know the tricks of where they might be hiding. Don’t worry about asking us to do our jobs. We’re book hunters as well as booksellers.

  1. “Where’s the [fill-in-the-blank] section of the store?”

While Booksellers has some rather large section signs hanging from the ceiling that will help you locate most subject areas, and possibly leave you feeling sheepish once they’re pointed out to you, not every section or sub-section has visible-from-a-distance signage. Even if you reviewed each section sign, it is utterly reasonable that you may not be able to intuit where something might be located. We can help you find it. Heck, if you want a tour of the whole store, we’ll give you one. We’re bookstore docents as well as book hunters and booksellers.

  1. “Where would I find books on [fill-in-the-blank]?”

The subject signage and basic inductive reasoning can usually provide you with all you need to find where books in your interest area are located. You may not want to or have the time to perform this guesswork. So just ask. Furthermore, book classification can be a judgment call and can vary from store to store. Are, for example, diabetic cookbooks in the Cooking section or the Diet section? At Booksellers, they are actually in neither. They’re in the Health section under “specific health conditions”. Honestly, not even every bookseller knows this. There’s no way we expect you to easily find them. Lastly, we don’t have books on every possible topic. We can help you research available titles and order you something that meets your needs. So, please, ask us. We’re book taxonomists, as well as bookstore docents, book hunters and booksellers.

  1. “I need to get something for my child [grandchild, etc.] to read and I don’t have a clue as to what. Can you help?”

We love this question! We are thrilled to do anything we can to encourage others, especially children, to read. If we can put a book that your child will love into his or her hands, s/he will associate reading with pleasure and want to read more. We have booksellers who are experts in children and young adult books. All of us have varying levels of knowledge about what kids read and enjoy, but we’re all willing and capable of providing at least some direction. To one degree or another, we’re all book polymaths, as well as book taxonomists, bookstore docents, book hunters and booksellers.

  1. I’m looking for something good to read. Any suggestions?

This may be our favorite question of all. Most booksellers are booksellers because they love books. They’re great to hold and look at on a shelf and to smell. But they’re best for reading. We read. But as much as we may love to read and as much time as we may spend reading, we can’t read everything. I may not read the types of books that you like to read, but there’s a very good chance someone I work with does. And, if not, we also talk to our customers and know what they like. If you tell us a few books that you have liked, one of us can triangulate some good recommendations for you. One request: please share with us your feedback on books, especially those we helped you select. Our recommendations are built upon the information we have. The more information you provide, the better we’ll be at finding you more books you’ll love. So tell us about what you’ve liked and ask for suggestions. We’re book curators, as well as book polymaths, book taxonomists, bookstore docents, book hunters and booksellers.

  1. “I’m looking for this book, but don’t know the author…or the title…but I read a review of it recently…no, I don’t know where I read the review…but it’s a new book (I think) and it’s about a guy who does [a thing] in [a place].”

Obviously, the more information we have, the better chance we have of finding you the book you’re looking for. But even if you have almost no information, go ahead and ask. If it’s a book that people and/or the media are talking about, we’ll possibly recognize it from even the vaguest of descriptions. If not, we’re well-practiced in asking the right questions and using our full complement of tools to identify the book you’re looking for. We can’t always pinpoint the exact title you’re looking for, but you’d be surprised how often we can. After all, we’re more than booksellers…

…in the realm of books, we’re magicians.

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3 Responses to An incomplete list of absolutely NOT dumb questions to ask a bookseller

  1. Sue says:

    As a 20 year veteran bookseller, I absolutely agree. These questions can be fun challenges. Especially #6, it can really “wow” a customer when I can name the book they are seeking with the vaguest of clues.

  2. Kasey says:

    Thanks so much for writing this! It’s a great way to reassure our customers, too, who sometimes think they are “bothering” us when asking for help, suggestions, or book matchmaking for gifts.

  3. I have a question for booksellers who sell kobo ebooks though their portals: What percentage, of if some other metric is used, how much do you receive from such sales? I like to support my favorite independent bookseller while still getting ebooks. For cases where the Kobo choice is more expensive or issued later than rivals, I’d like to know if the bookseller is actually getting something worthwhile enough to justify some extra trouble on my part.

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