Thursday, April 30, 2009

What bookstore employees REALLY think

I used to tell a story about the time I decided to read Dorothy L. Sayers's translation of The Inferno. I went to a chain bookstore (not Bookstore C) and asked the young man at the service desk. Full admission: I expected him to say, "Dantay? Do you have a last name?"

So I was pleasantly surprised when he said, "Sayers translated it too? I didn't know that. I prefer the Musa translation myself." Then we passed another store clerk, who asked if he could help, and my first helper explained, and the second clerk said, "Well, the Ciardi translation reproduces the original rhythms of the language and is really beautiful to read out loud." Musa? Ciardi? I wondered where the heck such scholars had been when I was in college, pursuing studies of handsome blond lifeguards.

When I started working at Bookstore C, I had fully two weeks of training. One thing I was told over and over was not only that "This is the Bookstore C way of shelving fiction/checking inventory/tidying the newsstand," I was warned that People From Corporate Might Visit Anytime -- clearly a way of keeping employees on their toes.

A few months ago I saw a customer standing in the Religion section looking baffled, and I asked if I could help. "I'm actually looking for Journey to the West," he said.

Wow! One year my Literature Club project was Journey to the West, and I personally happen to be steeped in Monkey lore. "Do you mean when Monkey traveled to get the ancient Buddhist scriptures?" I asked the customer.

"Why, yes," he said, "and I hope you have it in paperback."

I stopped in the middle of the aisle. "Gee, the paperback edition was published in 1987 and is out of print, "I explained. "We don't have the hard cover edition in stock but I can order it for you and, hmmm, it would be here in three days."

So we had a nice little discussion about Wu Cheng-en and Tripitaka and Arthur Waley and Monkey and Piggsy. I am certain he went home stunned and told his friends that Bookstore C sales staff are amazingly knowledgeable. Not knowing, of course, that he was speaking to one of the five people in Westchester County who ever heard of the book in the first place and who, in the second place, figured that he was A Person From Corporate Who Might Visit Any Time And Take Names.
Incidentally! There is actually a Journey to the West blog! Wouldn't it be cool for someone to do a blog of the journey itself? It could go on for years. Unhappily, that's not what that blog is -- it's a blog about producing the television show. The image above of Monkey and companions is from Wikimedia Commons.

1 comment:

dragonladyflame said...

OH MY GOD a "Journey to the West" TV show?! Matt and I are downloading this and watching it the minute I get home.