Like all businesses, bookselling would be fine if it wasn’t for the customers. Here Steerforth sets out his Browser’s Charter for people who would presume to enter a bookshop…
When booksellers get together what do we talk about? Books? Yes, sometimes – I remember waking up on someone’s floor after a booksellers’ party to find everyone earnestly discussing Gitta Sereny’s book about Albert Speer – but our favourite topic of conversation is probably the odd people that frequent our shops.
I’m not talking about the customers. They usually come in, browse for a while and buy a book, which doesn’t make a great anecdote. However in addition to customers, all bookshops have loyal clientele of regular browsers who managed to visit the shop every day without ever buying a book.
We had nicknames for all of our browsers. In one shop I worked in our regulars included ‘Crying Man’ , a young man who always looked as if he was on the verge of bursting into tears; ‘Reading Man’, a svelte man in his 60s who ran everywhere and kept wiping the sweat from his brow with a handkerchief and the teenage ‘Chess Man’ who stubbornly refused to leave when the shop closed.
In my last shop, we had ‘Shuffling Man’, who displayed an unhealthy interest in the Children’s section. There was also a gentleman known as ‘Weird Arm Man’, whose t-shirt revealed arms with thick, sausage-like veins. He liked to read our books by holding them no further than an inch away from the end of his nose.
On one occasion, when checking that the shop was empty before locking the doors, I shouted to one of the staff ‘Okay. No customers left. Even Weird Arm Man’ has gone. But he hadn’t. He was crouching down next to the Erotica section reading Schoolgirl Lust. I think he heard me, but he was back the following day.
The browsers – always silent and nearly always men – irritated me. I thought that it was an unwritten rule that if you wanted to use your local bookshop as a library, you would at least do them the courtesy of occasionally buying a book (a small paperback once a year would be enough), but our browsers seemed ignorant of this convention.
I suppose I must count myself lucky. Other colleagues discovered browsers performing less savoury acts on the shop floor, including defecating and masturbating (not at the same time, I hasten to add), or injecting themselves with heroin. That wasn’t quite what we envisaged when we became booksellers.
In an ideal world, I would have displayed a Browser’s Charter on the front door, just below the opening times:
- Buy a book at least once a year
- Treat the books carefully. If you crease the spine, we can’t sell it
- Please put books back where you found them
- Be as unobtrusive as possible – don’t stop a bookseller from doing their job or a customer from finding what they want
- Leave at least ten minutes before the shop closes
- Never stay longer than an hour
- Don’t stand too near the till area – it’s very offputting
- Please wash at least once a week
- Don’t read the erotic novels cover to cover
- Please dress modestly – we don’t want to see your testicles
Those are my ten golden rules. I understand that the dispossessed are naturally drawn to bookshops and who knows, one day I may join their ranks. However, if I do, I will make sure that I save some of my sherry money for the occasional purchase.
If you enjoyed this post, check out: