Sexism and Bookselling, with a post script on phone requests

Yesterday I was sitting behind the desk doing the mysterious things booksellers do behind desks and a man walks in. He is a reader. You can tell because he immediately engaged another employee in conversation and had a peculiar request. He wanted historical fiction that gave one a perspective that one hadn’t thought of before. So the (female) employee proceeds to tell him about 5 or 6 books, in-depth accounts of what the book is about and how it meets his requirements. He doesn’t go for them. She asks me, (I’m a woman), I give him a good, detailed description of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (a review I’ll get to eventually). Nope. He didn’t want that either. The other employee takes him to another shelf and tells the customer that her husband read it and liked it. He buys that one.

Really? Really. After spending probably fifteen minutes with this man giving him detailed descriptions of books, he goes with the one a man picked, without even knowing what it was about. It was not as if the other books chose were “woman” books, they were all about war and adventure and man-stuff. He just wanted to read what a man read. Plain and simple.

Now, how am I supposed to sell to that kind of person? I promise you it is a type of person. Should I just say, “(male name) liked this one a lot” and not even give my opinion or any kind of sales pitch? How do you “learn” to sell to those kinds of customers? I cannot unmake my gender and because I cannot, I cannot sell to certain people (at least I can’t sell anything I care about).

Another question. Is it his fault? Do I blame him or blame the common wisdom that most readers are women and that women don’t read the same books or the same way as men do? Ultimately, he bought a book so I shouldn’t be upset. But how can I learn from that experience, could I have done something that would have changed it? I doubt it. And to save the ruminating, Reader, I blame him.  To be honest, an encounter like that just reinforces my misanthropy, especially those afflicted with gender myopia.

The other strange thing that happened was this: a woman calls asking if we are the college bookstore, I say no, she says oh and hangs up. She calls back and asks me for the number to the college bookstore which I say I don’t have. She then asks. me. to. look. it. up. for.  her. And of course, I do. But I was just flabbergasted. Who does that? Who asks someone to look up a number for them?

Another phone conversation, though not really a request but an extravagant example of the asshole sub-species. I’ll skip to the end. He says “I don’t mean to complain but everytime I call y’all, you never have what I want and I have to drive all the way to the other end of town”. I tell him that we have a quick distribution system to make up for any lack of books we have and can get books in a couple of days. He responds “So can Amazon, thank you, bye”. All I could say was “Yeah,” in the bitchiest tone I could muster. I wanted to say “Thanks for supporting your local economy, but don’t wonder when the roads are fucked and there’s no one to pick up the trash.” Or more succinctly, “Fuck you, you fucking fuck.”

It’s one thing to go to another bookstore or order your books online; but it is quite another to tell an employee of an independent that they don’t have the book and that Amazon is better than they are. That’s just plain rude and a bad example of a human being. But this is what passes for humanity in the cutthroat bookselling business. I swear, indie booksellers have to go out with switchblades up our sleeves for protection against attackers who want to deep discount books.


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