Bookstore Customers Say the Darndest Things

Intern Bren’s Team Pick:


If you’ve ever thought of opening your own business, this blog may change that. Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops is written by Jen Campbell, a London based writer and the manager of Ripping Yarns bookstore. She amuses herself, and all of us really, by chronicling the oblivious, rude and down right weird things that her patrons say.

How weird, you ask? This weird:

Customer: Hi, do you have any new books?
Me: We’re an antiquarian bookshop – our stock is out of print books.
Customer: So other people have touched them?
Me: Presumably, yes.
Customer: I don’t think I’ll bother, thanks.
Me: OK.

(NOTE: I totally had to look up “antiquarian.” I thought it had something to do with aquariums. For the record it means “relating to or dealing with antiques or antiquities, especially rare and old books.” Nothing about the fishes.)

Customer: Do you have brown eyes? *peers over at me*
Me: Yes, I do.
Customer: My mother told me never to trust anyone with brown eyes.
Me: You have brown eyes.
Customer: ……….


Customer: If one wanted to steal your most expensive book, where would one look?

Here’s one relevant to your interests:

Customer: *holding up a Harry Potter book* This doesn’t have anything weird in it… does it?
Me: You mean, like, werewolves?
Customer: No – gays.
Me: …right.

Seems like Cori and/or Kacy from the Real L Word even stopped in:

Customer: Hi, do you have that sperm cookbook?
Me: No.
Customer: That’s a shame; I really wanted to try it. Have you tried it?
Me: I have not.

And there is something super special about a woman who has this much immediate knowledge of Charles Dickens:

Customer: I have The Pickwick Papers, 1st edition. How much will you buy them for?
Me: *examines book* Sorry, this was printed in 1910.
Customer: Yes.
Me: The Pickwick Papers was first printed in 1837; this isn’t a first edition.
Customer: No it was definitely first printed in 1910.
Me: Dickens was dead in 1910.
Customer: I don’t think so. You’re trying to con me.
Me: I promise you, I’m not.
Customer: *glares for a while, then picks the book back up quickly* I’m taking them to the Sotheby’s Auction! *storms out*


And just when you think that Britons must be the craziest people on the planet the Americans one-up everybody:

A customer in America, who ordered a very very old book, then claimed it was in terrible condition [which it wasn’t], sent the book back to us in only a paper bag, with pieces of paper stuck on the pages where there were photographs. The spine was broken, as though she’d put said book on a photocopier, had copied the images and posted it back to us – never intending to keep it in the first place. We reported this to ABE, who gave us the money to repair this book, and refunded her with a warning. We then got several very rude emails with choice phrases such as:

Customer: You will not forget this transaction. Every time an event goes wrong in your life, you will remember karma… I am a prophet and I bring you this message in the name of Jesus.

Amazing. And THEN, a few weeks later, we received an A4 envelope stuffed with pamphlets on how to recognise the devil within ourselves. Awesome.

But I think my favorite is simply:

Customer: Do you have any old porn magazines?

Also there’s has lots of British spellings and references, so I highly recommend reading the entire blog with an English accent.

Sidenote: Once I tried to do a British accent and a friend told me that it sounded like a Confederate soldier had moved to Australia for 2 years and THEN tried to do a SCOTTISH accent. So what I’m saying is maybe your British accent is better than mine. Hey maybe you’re even British. Win/win.

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Bren has written 80 articles for us.


  1. Ah, I’ve had some crackers working in a bookshop. One customer upon seeing a book in the religion section titled “How Jesus Became a Christian” turned to her friend and said in the most horrified voice ‘Well! You’d kind of hope he always was!’ NOW, I’m no theologian…

    Another one which was related to me was that a woman came in to ask for recommendations for her daughter. When we asked the standard ‘What does your daughter usually read/what was the last thing she read?’ the woman thought for a moment and replied; ‘She just finished Anne Frank’s diary. Has she written anything new recently?”

    Apart from that you get the standard ‘Can you do a search for this book? I don’t know the author or the title and can’t give you a basic plot outline but it has a blue cover with a yellow dog and was over there *customer points in a vague direction* last July.’

    • Hmm, having just read through that blog I’m guessing the Anne Frank sequel story probably didn’t happen at our store and instead is one of those bookseller urban myths that originated somewhere in the mists of time.

    • I think I’ve had the blue cover person! ;) Actually I did and luckily for them I knew the book that they were looking for was The Life of Pi. But only because it was really popular for so long.

      • The blue cover lady didn’t seem to understand that since I didn’t work at the shop that July she was in and failed to make a cursory note of the title or author that I had no idea what she was talking about. Oh customers. The ones that ask for ‘non-fiction’ are good as well. They generally get punted upstairs since that’s where the majority of our non-fiction books are. I can’t think of any really good (re:hilarious) enquiries I’ve had recently though.

      • Haha, I’ve had the blue book customer as well. Actually… A lot. And most of the times, when you do find the book they were looking for, it turns out it wasn’t even blue.
        Gotta love working at a bookstore, eh ! <3

  2. this shop owner is my new favorite person, i want to go there!

    Customer: Do you have any books on the dark arts?
    Me: …No.
    Customer: Do you have any idea where I could find some?
    Me: Why don’t you try Knockturn Alley?
    Customer: Where’s that?
    Me: Oh, the centre of London.
    Customer: Thanks, I’ll keep my eyes peeled for it.

  3. People used to come in to the Barnes & Noble where I worked and ask where non fiction was. I would gesture at the whole store. Then they would give me a nasty look as I said, “this isn’t a library, technically everything besides the section labeled fiction is non fiction. Can I help you find a specific topic?”

    I also loved the paranoid dudes buying books on how to grow pot at home.

    • Yeesh- that brings back memories of my B&N days.
      Why is the “non-fiction” question universal?? My favorite customers were the ones that *in fact* were looking for the fiction section, but couldn’t remember which was which.

      And the parents that would ask to see *every* book on their child’s summer reading list. Urrgh!

  4. yess its like black books but real life and turned around because the ridic people are the customers! <3 black books so much yall.

    • really, who does not? I’d work for Bernard… only if he let me wear his tax return jacket though :P

  5. Oh my god, next time I’m in London I am finding this store and going to stand there and have deep and meaningful conversation with Jen Campbell and make jokes about flight times of unladen sparrows.

    Or maybe I’ll just ask if she has any 19th century books on kittens.

    • I know! I totally wanna buy her a beer or a pint or whatever they drink over there.

      • A pint! You’re right.

        Aren’t we strange drinking things in imperial/customary units?!

        Although… in some places you can buy cocktails in litres, because that sounds more badass…

  6. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve considered making a blog devoted to the dumb shit customers say to me.

  7. Customer: You have maps?
    Me: Yes, we do. Road maps?
    Customer: Yes.
    Me: We have old ones – Ordnance Survey maps, and road maps, here.
    Customer: I need a map to Dover.
    Me: *looks around.* I’m not sure we have a specific South-East map. We have a road map of the UK.
    Customer: No. I walk.
    Me: You’re walking?
    Customer: Yes.
    Me: To Dover?
    Customer: Yes.
    Me: That’s very very far.
    Customer: It’s five miles, yes?
    Me: No. It’s about eighty miles.
    Customer: You point me in the right direction?
    Me: I don’t know which way it is from here.
    Customer: Ok. I follow the smell of the sea.

  8. Customer: Do you stock Nigella Lawson under ‘Sex’ or ‘Cookery’?
    Me: It’s a tough call, isn’t it?

    HEYOOOOOO. Truth.

    • I watched Ursula Martinez’s latest show late last year (she of the naked-magic-hankie fame) and she talked about how she was asked to perform that act at Salman Rushdie’s bachelor party. The guests then played Spin the Bottle, and Ursula declined because she didn’t want to end up kissing Salman Rushdie – but she regretted passing up the chance to kiss Nigella Lawson.

    • “But you have to trust me, my frittata party is a complete doddle.” Oh Nigella, I definitely trust you.

  9. This is great! A B&N story for you all…
    Customer: I need to pick up some books that are on my summer reading list.
    Me: Okay, what do you need?
    Customer: Some book called “Henery Vee”
    Me: Ahh yes. The “Vee” in that actually means the number 5.
    Customer: Blank look.

  10. Didn’t happen in a bookstore but my sister, in the years before google once asked some question about who, what, when, how.
    Me: You could go look it up at the library.
    Her: Eh, I don’t wanna that bad.

  11. What I learned today is that in order to make my life more amusing, I need to work at a book shop, follow this blog, or both.
    I’m going for the latter.

  12. Me: Ok, so with postage that brings your total to £13.05. One second and I’ll get the card machine.
    Customer: No. No, absolutely not. I demand that you charge me £12.99. I will not pay for anything that starts with thirteen. You’re trying to give me bad luck. Now, change it or I will go to a bookshop who doesn’t want me to fall down a hole and die. Ok?


  13. I work at a bookstore and sadly this is my life. Here is a favorite of mine:

    Customer: My daughter needs some book called Tequila Mockingbird for school.
    Me:I’m sorry, do you mean To Kill a Mockingbird?
    Customer: No tequila like the stuff you get drunk off of.
    Me: …. OK we don’t carry that title I’m sorry to say.

  14. The best question I was asked during my Borders days:
    Customer: Excuse me, do you sell books?
    Me: …

    Another good’un that a colleague was asked:
    Customer: Do you sell donuts?

    And my third favourite:
    Customer: Do you sell wills?
    Me: I’m sorry?
    Customer: Wills? Like a fill-in-the-blanks will.
    Me: …
    Customer: I don’t think it’s that unusual a question.

    • And how could I forget the charming fellow who came in with his hood pulled almost over his eyes, drops of blood on his clothes, and asked whether we had any books on stab wounds to the neck.

  15. I work at a bookstore and just about every customer presages their question with “I’m looking for a book.” They then look at me strangely when I respond “which one,” “take your pick,” or “we’ve got plenty.”

    My other story is not so much a specific exchange but a trend — buying books as study. Working around exam time (the bookstore is on the university campus), there’ll always be a customer who comes in the day before their exam for the textbook, the study guide and whatever else they think may be useful. I recently had someone from another university ring up the day before their exam. Of course we didn’t have the right book but I sold him the text for the equivalent course, the recommended book for the equivalent course, a legal dictionary and a book on exam technique. I should have tried to sell him a lucky paperweight for ten times the regular price. It would have been just as helpful.

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