Booksellers to customers: Ask any question you like!

Staff at Memphis's The Booksellers at Laurelwood say customers should come forward for help even with a question like 'I'm looking for a book about a guy who does [a thing] in [a place]....'

Ann Hermes
A bestsellers bookshelf sits at The Book Cellar, an independent bookstore in Lincoln Square in Chicago, Illinois.

You may have heard that there’s no such thing as a stupid question, and staff at Memphis’s The Booksellers at Laurelwood bookstore are out to convince others of that. 

Staff recently compiled a list of “absolutely NOT dumb questions to ask a bookseller” on the store’s website. 

“We spend much of our day answering questions posed by you, our customers. Many of those questions are presented almost apologetically, with the implied preface ‘I recognize this may be a dumb question, but…’ Others are more direct, preemptively begging pardon with a preamble along the lines of, ‘this may be a really stupid question, but….’ I’m not here to comfort you with the reassurance that there are no dumb questions to ask a bookseller. There are. For sure. But we get them rarely enough that its best you not even concern yourself with them. You’re not the one asking them.”

Questions that are absolutely acceptable, according to Laurelwood staff, include “Can you help me find [book title]?,” “I need to get something for my child [grandchild, etc.] to read and I don’t have a clue as to what,” and “I’m looking for this book, but don’t know the author … or the title … but I read a review of it recently…. no, I don’t know where I read the review…. but it’s a new book (I think) and it’s about a guy who does [a thing] in [a place].” 

You might feel shy about asking that last one, but you shouldn’t, say staff.

“Even if you have almost no information, go ahead and ask,” Laurelwood staff wrote. “If it’s a book that people and/or the media are talking about, we’ll possibly recognize it from even the vaguest of description. If not, we’re well-practiced in asking the right questions and using our full complement of tools to identify the book you’re looking for. We can’t always pinpoint the exact title you’re looking for, but you’d be surprised how often we can. After all, we’re more than booksellers…. [I]n the realm of books, we’re magicians.”

Of course, booksellers do sometimes get strange queries from patrons. Author Jen Campbell worked at a bookstore in London and compiled some of the odder things she overheard as well as those submitted to her by other bookstore workers into her book “Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores.” Questions included “Do you have 'Fiddler on a Hot Tin Roof'?,” “What books could I buy to make guests look at my bookshelf and think, 'Wow, that guy's intelligent'?,” and “So where do all these books come from? Do you get them from Amazon?” 

And staff from Cambridge, Mass.’s Porter Square Books recently shared that searching for books isn’t always easy – “every title and author’s name sounds like ‘Ssdflkjx Dkfsldkflkjs’ over the phone,” staff wrote in a Buzzfeed article.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.