A game called Bookstore Bingo recently flared to life on Twitter: Purveyors of books recounted the oddest questions that they'd been asked by customers. Many of the examples focused on the ignorance of book buyers, which could be amusing but also had a slightly mean undercurrent: "I'm looking for a book but I only know the title, not the author. It's called Dante's Inferno"; or "Who wrote Jane Austen?" Hey, they're better off asking than not, right?
Better were the genuinely off-the-wall queries: "Do you have books on monkeys, monkeys doing things like people?" (The site Shelf Awareness collected the best entries in the game; I'm drawing on its summary here.) Or bizarre theories proferred without prompting. One bookseller was reliably informed that the U.S. government insisted that Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons" be classified as a novel, rather than nonfiction, in order to assist the Vatican in a cover-up.
Clearly, anyone who sells books must cultivate the ability to divine a title a customer is thinking of from the slightest of clues. Wrote one bookseller: "Customer asked for 'The Onion in the Closet'; wanted 'Indian in the Cupboard.'"
Boasted another: "I like to think my ability to track down books from customer-provided cover colors is legendary."
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.