October 1, 2018

Intellectual show-offs and other insufferable book customers


Today we will cover the five worst kinds of bookstore customers, as told by Shaun Bythell, author of The Diary of a Bookseller

Photo via Eliabe Costa/Unsplash

Don’t be one of them.

1. The self-proclaimed book lover

We all know at least one of these. This person has tote bags, t-shirts, pins, and frequently posts Instagram shots of book stacks next to a hot beverage or a plant (probably a succulent). These folks sure had us fooled, but Bythell noticed a trend:

“Really bookish people are a rarity, although there are vast numbers of those who consider themselves to be such. The latter are particularly easy to identify – often they will introduce themselves when they enter the shop as ‘book people’ and insist on telling you that ‘we love books.’ They’ll wear T-shirts or carry bags with slogans explaining exactly how much they think they adore books, but the surest means of identifying them is that they never, ever buy books.” (Bythell, p. 37)

If you’re reading this while wearing your favorite Bartleby t-shirt and truly are a lover of literature, prove Bythell wrong! March over to your nearest bookstore in all of your book  lover swag and purchase something.

2. The haggler

One irritating kind of customer is the kind that asks for discounts on already discounted books. Perhaps even more irritating is the customer that walks to the checkout with an unpriced book and jokes: 

“This one’s got no price on it. It must be free.” (Bythell, p. 42)

3. The in-store online shopper


“Increasingly customers are using the shop merely as a browsing facility, then buying online.” (Bythell, p. 195)

4. The intellectual masturbator 

Ah, you know that annoying neighbor that loves to fill you in on every complex sounding article or book they read within the fortnight? We know you dread running into that person on the sidewalk and chances are your local bookstore owner does, too. Let’s hear it from Bythell: 

“Often, even after you’ve told customers that you do not have a copy of the book they’re looking for in stock, they will insist on telling you at great length and in tedious detail why they’re looking for that particular title. A few possible explanations for this have occurred to me, but the one by which I am most convinced is that it is an exercise in intellectual masturbation. They want you to know that this is a subject about which they are informed, and even if they are wrong about whatever they’ve chosen to pontificate on, they drone on – normally at a volume calculated to reach not only the cornered bookseller but everyone else in the vicinity too.” (Bythell, p. 74)

5. The impolite imbecile

“In November 2001, the month I bought the shop, an old man was browsing in the maritime history section of the shop. He came to the counter and asked, ‘When are you having the bonfire?’ Puzzled, I asked him what he meant. He replied, ‘For your books. I have never seen such rubbish. All they’re good for is the bonfire.’” (Bythell, p. 101) 

We have no words. Just be nice. 

If you would like to learn about more awful customer types, you can:

  1. Buy a bookstore.
  2.  Hear it from Shaun Bythell himself.

Christina Cerio is the Manager of Direct Sales & Special Projects at Melville House.