Whenever booksellers gather, they’ll eventually start asking each other one question: What’s the most vague and crazy way a customer has asked about a particular book? Scratch that–they won’t ask, they’ll just start telling their stories. They’re like poker players who can’t get over a bad beat, and they can instantly recall the nearly impassable hurdles they’ve had to overcome in trying to find the right read.
Even a front-counter novice knows the basic routine: “I don’t remember the title, but I think it had a blue cover. I heard about it on NPR, so you must know what it is.” You dig for as much more information as you can, and sometimes you get lucky. It’s a wartime romance and it’s fiction and it happens to be on this week’s bestseller list and voilà, there’s your sale. Most times there’s not any extra detail to uncover, the customer’s trick pitch is too much to handle, you swing and you miss, and there’s not much more to tell.
More interesting are the occasions when you find yourself handling a slippery Clupea harengus rubeus, known in less technical circles as a red herring ... continued