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My attention is so focused on online bookselling that at times I forget that I have a 2400 sq. ft. store for people to walk into (likewise I get so caught up with my personal weblog I forget about this one).
By all norms the man who came by Sunday afternoon should’ve annoyed me. Right off he shook my hand and introduced himself. I know that sounds cold but that usually presages a gland-hander who’ll waste my time asking for books that I don’t merely not have but wouldn’t bother to stock (Danielle Steele first editions, say.)
But he didn’t follow up the handshake with the wearisome phrase “I love books.” Often qualified with the assertion they don’t have time right now but that when they come back they’ll probably “go broke.” They never come back, they don’t read.
This fellow looked far more urbane than the average sap. But he did want to be catered to and walked to the bookcase that might have the book he wanted. The best book customers almost invariably read the signs and find Flaubert and Pound for themselves.
First book he asked for was Samuel Eliot Morrison’s Admiral of the Ocean Sea a commonplace book on Columbus. I didn’t have it. No surprise. It falls into the category of book that if you have a copy you’ve probably been waiting ten years to be rid of it. I never know we don’t have one of that species until someone asks for it. I’d probably turned away dozens of copies.
My luck improved by having the Steegmuller translation of Madame Bovary (much to my surprise the only cope we had, the others were Penguins. And visiting Pound he took all but one volume of the Pound crit.
Then I embarrassed myself by not knowing how Romain Rolland’s name sounds when enunciated by someone who speaks French. (Not that we had any, his novels being in the same class as the Columbus book.)
Hitting the Judaica he found a section to settle in and let me go back to the vital task of smoking cigarettes (on the porch, I never do that in the shop).
A polyglot, learned, a bit old-worldly, he’d won me over. I took the small piles of Judaica he stacked up to the counter. Eventually it formed three good-sized stacks.
Proof that I’d been seduced: I offered him a discount without being asked. I took the books to his car for him (maybe the second time in twenty years I’ve offered to do that). And I called him “sir.” I was twenty-five before I managed to unlearn calling adults (even though I’d been damned to being one) sir.
A rare visit by the kind of customer I’d assumed we’d have before opening the shop. Not being a librarian I can say that may the people who want Tom Clancy, self-help books, and similar crap go rot in hell.