I first heard about Jen Campbell about five minutes before I walked into Ripping Yarns, the North London bookstore where she works. I was with Simon and he was telling me about Jen’s blog and her “Weird Things Customers Say” feature, where she quotes some of the bizarre conversations or questions she has or overhears in the bookshop. I have never been so quiet in a bookstore in my life as I was on that visit. That night, I checked out her blog and laughed my way through the archives. The North American edition of her book, Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores, came out last September and finally this week I got my hands on it.
Though some of the quotes are laugh out loud funny, most are funny-sad; reminders that some readers can finish The Diary of Anne Frank and want to know if she wrote a sequel, that customers think they can return books to one store purchased at another completely unaffiliated store, or that parents searching for books on the Enlightenment for their children think it was about the invention of the light bulb do not particularly restore your faith in the intelligence of the human race. As far as I can tell, working in a bookstore must be like being trapped inside an absurdist play.
It is a very short book and not particularly suited to a traditional review so here are a few of my favourite quotes:
Customer (to their friend): God, the Famous Five titles were crap, weren’t they? Five Go Camping, Five Go Off in a Caravan…If it was Five Go Down to a Crack House it might be a bit more exciting.
(What I wouldn’t give for Enid Blyton to have written that book!)
Customer: Doesn’t it bother you, being surrounded by books all day? I think I’d be paranoid they were all going to jump off the shelves and kill me.
(You have to wonder how these people even find their way into bookstores, don’t you?)
Customer: It’s amazing, isn’t it, how little we really know about writers’ lives? Especially the old ones.
Bookseller: I guess the lives of writers have changed a lot.
Customer: Yes. And don’t forget about those women who used to write under male names.
Bookseller: Yes, like George Eliot.
Customer: I always thought Charles Dickens was probably a woman.
Bookseller:…I’m pretty sure Charles Dickens was a man.
Customer: But who’s to say?
Bookseller: Well, he was pretty prominent in society, lots of people saw him.
Customer: But maybe that was all a show – maybe that was her brother, while Charlene was at home, writing.
(this honestly made me laugh more than anything else in the entire book.)
More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops will be coming out this April and I am sure it will be just as entertaining!