Review: Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell book cover
Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops (2012) is Jen Campbell's aptly named book about the odd and humourous enquiries received by booksellers up and down the land, but most particularly in The Edinburgh Bookshop, and Ripping Yarns, an antiquarian bookshop in London. During her time working in bookshops, Campbell began documenting the amusing interactions she had day-to-day with customers and eventually posted these on her blog. These tidbits became so popular that, when they came to the attention of Neil Gaiman, fate conspired and Jen was offered a publishing deal. The result is a neat little collection of amusing episodes accompanied by fun illustrations from Greg McLeod, of the Brothers McLeod.

The book sits firmly in the novelty / coffee-table-book section and, whilst it's easy to get sucked into reading one anecdote after another, most readers will find the greatest pleasure from dipping in and out of this collection, and sharing their favourites with friends and fellow book lovers. The illustrations are a nice touch and break up the flow of anecdotes neatly. To give you a flavour of the book, here are a couple of my favourite episodes:

CUSTOMER (to her friend): What's this literary criticism section? Is it for books that complain about other books?

CUSTOMER: If my daughter wants to buy books from the teenage section do you need to see some form of ID? It was her thirteenth birthday this weekend. I can show you pictures of the cake. You can count the candles.

All the anecdotes are short and sharp, Campbell relaying them with pointed and well-observed humour and irony. There is a creeping sense that some of the interactions are too perfectly witty, the comebacks too bold and crisp, and one wonders how much fluffing has gone into some of the accounts to make them publication-worthy. However, the enquiries relayed here will strike a chord with dispensers of books everywhere; from booksellers to librarians, the intrepid market stall holders to the car boot sale brigade. This is a book for you – those who fend off, with an assured and good-humoured irony, the oft bizarre enquiries of enthusiastic book-seekers.

This is a delightful little book, which will no doubt be passed between friends and booksellers, each comparing personal encounters of the bizarre kind. Although a slim volume, the book feels well-judged and, whilst an introduction to the collection would have been a nice touch, the overall package is quirky, amusing, and exactly what one would expect. If this doesn't have you nodding your head in recognition, or chortling into your lunch time sandwich, then guess what: you're probably one of the 'characters' this book is about.

There are some great little anecdotes in this book; as a librarian I can definitely sympathise, and anyone that has spent any time around books will surely appreciate Campbell's collection too.

Useful Links
Reviews of Weird Things on Amazon (UK)

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Interview: Jen Campbell
Jen Campbell is a graduate of the prestigious Edinburgh University where she studied English. During her time in Scotland she worked in The Edinburgh Bookshop, but now resides in London where she writes poetry and works in Ripping Yarns... [Read More]


Petra said...

"You can count the candles." :D
As Jen said, we all say weird things (and some of us are overall just ridiculous:)), but when it comes to books, I'm really sensitive. One of my friends (and she's a smart girl!) keeps mixing up Jane Austen and Jane Eyre all the time. She always corrects herself though and I try to appear calm, but I'm dying inside! :)

Matthew (The Bibliofreak) said...

Haha, yep I know what you mean. I am definitely one for being a bit of a twit, a lot of the time, but other readers definitely keep you on your toes with their oddities ;)

Diana said...

As someone who worked in a bookstore for years, I need to read this! And own it!

Honestly, the awful customers kind of ruined the experience of being in a literary environment for me. Example: The time the lady yelled at me on the phone because I didn't know exactly to what she was referring when she asked for the 'pretty German book' we had on display four months ago. :/

Matthew (The Bibliofreak) said...

You definitely do - for all booksellers and dispensers of literature this is priceless!

As a librarian, I can definitely identify with the expectation that we know everything. Literally everything. Even the title of the blue book you read when you were 15. Haha, gotta love 'em :)

Britt said...

I will have to check this out when it releases in the States. Glad that it is as humorous as it sounds. There are quite amusing questions when you work with people on a regular basis.

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