Sometimes people walk into Tales of the Lonesome Pine bookstore. I believe they are what keen observers of human society would call “customers.” These customers are a varied and mysterious breed. And while my previous training had suggested their intent was most often to “buy” things using “money,” I have been surprised by the variety of encounters possible within this scenario.
What follows is just one of the many stories from…
The Declassified Whalen Customer Files
A common story from people who have worked with titles, whether it be videos or books, is the customer asking after something that’s just on the tip of their tongue. And while they can’t quite remember the ISBN, title, genre, or author, there is always a single fact: The Smoking Bookgun (I’d watch a movie called that). It may be the book’s shape or size, or the main character’s maiden name, but they’ll definitely remember something.
Of course I now have those stories of my very own. In fact, I was tempted to thank the first customer who brought me my first Smoking Bookgun Mystery. But while I knew about these encounters beforehand, I was surprised by two new elements.
The first is how often the mystery ends up solved. People have come in with little more than a twinkle in their eye, but given enough time we’ll eventually find the right thing. My first guess after you say, “I’m looking for this book… it’s blue,” may very well be, “Oh, you mean Laguna Beach: Season 1 on DVD? Yeah, we’ve got that.” But humans have a remarkable capacity for seeking common ground and paring down large groupings into small. It turns out we’re all pretty awesome at it.
Plus, the Internet exists now.
So yes, it may have taken 45 minutes, but eventually I’ll get to mispronounce most of: “here’s your copy of Verlag Von Gerlach & Wielding’s Völkerschmuck! Auf Wiedersehen!” So it doesn’t matter if you’re not sure exactly what book you have in mind. Roll the dice. Your odds are better than you think.
The second element that surprised me was a novel new twist on the quest for that one book you heard about that one time at the family BBQ from your cousin who is totally in the CIA and carried it with him for like six months until the cover wore off and he could really use a new copy before flying off to I-Can’t-Tell-You-Where-Because-It’s-Top-Secret-Stan. I have now been asked on several occasions to track a book based on another fictional character reading it within a movie. That’s right, the only smoking bookgun is a fictional recommendation from Tom Hanks before he went off to make out with Meg Ryan or date a mermaid or whatever else Tom Hanks is up to these days.
Sometimes I can help with this. But if you want that one scroll that Gandalf was reading in the library in the Tower of Ecthelion, we probably don’t have it.
All this said, I make no promises and have no special powers. We may never find that one book that was about this big and about this thick. But I have now my own small contribution to the long and storied tradition of “customers not knowing what they want” narratives. With that complete, I look forward to your stumpers and promise not to respond with any variety of droll, knowing smirk.