Hello!  I am thrilled to announce that Ill Literati: Crazy People in Books has posted its first set of stories !

Gina Collia-Suzuki, an author from England, writes about her colorful experience as an antiquarian bookseller in Mr. Sweets.

Sage Card shares her slightly smelly bookselling encounter in Foot Lady.

The lovely veteran librarian Joan Gross gives us some tidbits from her thirty five years of librarianship in Memories of a Librarian.

Jac Jemc tells three tales of absentee customers in People Who Have Not Recently Shown Up at the Bookstore.

Read!  Laugh!  Commiserate!  Enjoy!

Ahh, bookselling.

Greetings from the editor of Ill-Literati: Crazy People in Books.  I’d love to take a few paragraphs to explain how this idea came about.

I’m entering my sixth month of working at a local independent bookstore (my first stint in retail), where I serve coffee, wine, food and books to all the lovely people who stroll in.

A great majority of the patrons of our store are new moms and dads, toting their brand-new babies in strollers, wrap-arounds, slings, bags, and a mind-boggling array of other baby-carrying devices. We’ve got the regulars, the trash-magazine-lovers, the romance readers, the kids who rip through a book per week in their favorite series, the mystery buyers, the pretentious literary fiction connoisseurs, and oh so many more … Most of the patrons of our bookstore are your average consumers, perhaps with a leftist bent, who love the idea of shopping locally and supporting independents—yay!

But then there are those who stand out from the crowd.  Many of the people who enter through our double-doors have positively blown my mind.  As a writer, I have been bombarded with “characters”–but this is better than fiction! After speaking with friends and coworkers who are either in bookselling or have worked at libraries, we believe we have discovered a pattern: 

Crazy people love books!

Like when the man with a braided beard and dangling earrings comes in, stinking of rotten baby poop and not wearing shoes.  He carries a cloud of odor that extends ten feet in all directions and lingers for a half hour after he leaves.  Smellyman has managed to scare off all but one customer, who happened to be in the bathroom clogging up the toilet as Smellyman made his rounds.

Or the gray-haired woman with the cute green blouse who seems nice enough when she tells me interesting facts about Angler fish and other creatures of the deep … until she parks in front of the counter and explains, in forty-five minute detail, speaking over other customers as they attempt to pay me for their books, the fascinating idiosyncrasies of getting financial aid so that she can take classes for free at the local school of folk music, though she didn’t like her tap dance teacher last time and is terribly frustrated that he teaches all the tap classes, so she is considering taking another kind of class but unfortunately the school is closed today for Labor Day, so she’ll be sure to stop back in the next time she’s in the area because she just loves books and is thinking about writing her life story, and wouldn’t you help her proofread it?

A woman the other day answered our Trivia Question for a free coffee (Q: Name one of the two people who dared Mary Shelly to write Frankenstein A: Percy Shelley or Lord Byron), only she didn’t want the coffee now, or even today at all; she wanted me to write her out a receipt explaining that she got the trivia question correct, so that she could come back another day and enjoy her complimentary beverage. When I suggested that she  just come in and answer the question again, when she wanted the coffee, she explained that she had gotten a receipt for the trivia question two weeks ago, and was collecting them for a day in the future when she might wish to enjoy many cups at once. “We give free refills,” I explained, but she insisted that I write her a receipt.

Pre-election, we had a display of McCain and Obama books.  It faced the entrance doors, so it was the first thing people encountered upon entering.  Our independent store is located in a very left-leaning neighborhood, so our stock of books tends to serve their needs.  We carry books that will sell.  I was informed the other day by a cute grandpa with suspenders and a golf hat that it was my duty to be Fair and Balanced. 

He approached the counter and asked me, “I’m wondering if your store carries a book.”  I ask him which one.  The Audacity of Deception.”  I check our inventory. 

“I’m sorry, sir, but we are all out of that book; I’d be more than happy to order it for you—you could get it by tomorrow …”

“No,” he replies, “I was just checking if you had it.  I was looking at your election display over there.  Do you have another book, called Obama Nation?”  I checked again. 

“We’re out of that one, too, but again, I’d love to order it for you …”

“No I’m not going to buy anything!” he declares, as if I’ve offended him by offering to find his book. “I’m from out of town.  I just see that you don’t have a very balanced display out there…” as he goes on to instruct me on how to stock our independently-owned bookstore.

There’s the cute soccer mom who seems like she’s going to be one of the gem-customers—the kind of person who makes me absolutely love my job, like the grandfather who brings his granddaughter in every Saturday to eat a bowl of our vegetarian chili soup and sip hot chocolate while reading to her from the Smithsonian.  This soccer-mom, however, in her gym shoes, cute matching workout pants and endearing smile, seems like she’s going to be one of the good ones, until I tell her that we’re out of stock of the third book in the Twilight series and she nearly tears out my eyeballs.

These are the kinds of stories I want to collect.  Because really, when it comes down to it, what makes working in Books a truly awesome job is not the free Advanced Readers Copies we get to read before anybody else, nor is it getting a thirty percent discount off store inventory; it’s not even enjoying the leftover wine from the cafe at the end of an evening.  It’s the people we encounter every day, and the stories that inevitably follow when humans pair with books.

And what better way to rally book people around a common theme that is both bookish and human, than to create a forum and make a book of these oftentimes hilarious (and sometimes sad) experiences?  So please, share your stories of bookselling (and book-renting).  I can’t wait to read them!

Happy writing and reminiscing,

Editor, Ill-Literati: Crazy People in Books