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Bookseller Secrets and Stories: Pride, Prejudice, and the Kamasutra

In addition to writing books, two of us moosers here on the highway also sell 'em. Leila works for a quaint little children's bookshop in New Zealand, and I work for the uber-chain Barnes & Noble in Texas, a state where "little" is pretty much an illegal word. It's big, ya'll. Real big.

So we thought it would be fun to share some stories, some secrets, some inside info on two incredibly different bookstores on opposite sides of the globe. Here's a little scoop on what's going on in the Big Bad B&N this holiday season.

Peek under the cash registers. It's like looking under a teenage boy's mattress.

Yup. Nudie mags. All kinds, tucked neatly behind the cleaning supplies like we're hiding them from Mom. Apparently, the most popular request at my store is the Playboy where Marge Simpson was the centerfold.

Speaking of...that, we card.

If you want to browse the sexuality shelf, make sure you have an I.D., and you're over 19. A co-worker told me he found a 10 year old boy reading the Kamasutra with great interest. When he told the boy he wasn't allowed, the boy cried, "But my mom and dad won't tell me about this stuff – where else am I supposed to learn it?"


It's fair and balanced like Fox News.

Our current events shelf is dominated – dominated – with right-wing propaganda. Not information. Propaganda. Today's featured book: Obamanomics: How Barack Obama is Bankrupting You And Enriching His Wall Street Friends, Corporate Lobbyists, and Union Bosses. Laura Bush and Mike Huckabee have both done book signings at my store. I do not believe Hillary Clinton would be so welcome.

I'm interested to see, when I move up to the northern U.S., if the shelves are so heavily liberal. Either way, it would be nice if people could have the option of reading books that don't confirm their worst fears, and rather simply provide them with information from another perspective.

Covers that make you look twice.

Let me start by saying, I am all about revamping covers to give classics a new look that will appeal to another generation of readers. But this new version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice – front and center on the YA feature shelf – definitely made me do a double take:

I don't have to say it. You see. You know. And again, I love, love, love that Austen is so proudly displayed in a place where teenagers will notice her, hopefully pick her up, and discover her magic. That makes me so happy. But I have to say it. This marketing ploy gave me an ouchie on my soul.

We're all doomed anyway, why is this so scary?

Most frightening book in the store...the new Stephen King? Nah. Try Christmas Stories for Glenn Beck.

I'm far too terrified to open it. However, I'm guessing that Santa finally gets his comeuppance for delivering an equal amount of presents to all the children of the world.

Buy a nookie, get a cookie.

First off: it's nook. No article, no capitalization. Barnes and Noble's answer to the Kindle. And seeing one, along with the huge selection of stylish covers to cradle it in, is enough to send me into a fit of consumerism. Want. One.

You can't get your nook by Christmas, but once you do have it, when you walk into your local B&N a little café coupon just might pop up on the screen. Right now, it's for a free cookie. And isn't that worth the $250 you've contributed to the downfall of paper books?

This is why we write.

I've had the pleasure of helping several people, adults and children, find books, which is by far the best part of the job. But the scene that sticks in my mind most so far was the 13-ish year old boy who approached the cash register with a stack of four books. As I rang them up, his eyes traveled over the shelf behind me.

"Oh...can I see that one?" he asked, pointing to a copy of the latest 39 Clues. I handed it to him, and he stared at the price, doing mental calculations.

"Can I trade this one for this one?" he said finally, pointing to one of the books in his stack.

"Sure." I rang the new book up, and he watched with a kind of forlorn look as I placed the other book in a box behind me. He handed me his membership card (yes, he had a membership card!), and started counting out ones and change all crumpled up in "allowance-kept-in-a-sock" fashion.

Then I told him the total with the membership discount, and his whole face lit up.

"Oh, wait...I have enough to get all five!"

And sure enough, he did, by about a dime. He walked off with five brand new books and a huge smile, and I left work ready to write something, knowing that there's kids like that out there to read it.
Michelle Schusterman

Michelle writes books for kids, screenplays for a tv/film production company, and music for anyone who'd buy a "groove matters" bumper sticker. She lives in New York City with her husband (and band mate) and their chocolate lab (who is more of a vocalist). She is the author of middle grade series I Heart Band - 2014, and The Kat Sinclair Files - 2015 (both from Grosset).

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  1. Booksellers. They rock my world.

    You guys rock it extra hard, because you were already born with Awesome before you became book-people.

  2. That story about the little boy had me tearing up! LOVE moments like that, and I know that it made your day.
    The store I worked at had a similar problem about biased displays. Which I understand is a business thing (give the customers what sells). I do wish we would have had more little Indie shops though :(
    Love hearing these stories. Keep 'em coming!

  3. omg children's stories by Glenn Beck. He is a little bit terrifying (even to moderate conservatives).
    FYI (since you asked!) up here, the current events section--and the biographies section--is dominated with books about Obama. In a good light, not in a he's destroying everything light. And plenty of George Bush sucks books. I commented to my boyfriend last time we were in there, because it would definitely be nice to see more balance! Have to cater to the audience, though, I suppose.

    LOVE the poor ten year old reading kama sutra.

    You better do more of these posts!

  4. I will, and Leila too! I'm really excited to hear about NZ indie bookstore stories.

    I understand the "give the customers what they want" thing too. But it's not informative, it's just propaganda! I've never lived up north so I can't speak for that area, but down south it feels like people just wallow and fester in these incredibly strong feelings, and are never exposed to even a glimmer of a different point of view.

    And Glenn Beck scares the crap out of me, for real.

    (And thanks, KJr!) :)

  5. I think I would like to move to Texas :)

    And yes, up here it's just like Kaitlin said. Though there are quite a few of Palin's books floating around in the stores right now.

  6. Oh my goodness, this post is hilarious. I didn't even know about the special place under the counter (but now that I do . . . :D)

    And yes, I can def. see how that would be the BEST part of the job. I love that story, M.

  7. As embarrassing as that was, I know all about that Playboy with Marge. My husband forced me to buy it. I wouldn't have done it if he hadn't been with me.

    And the story about the boy? Freakin' awesome. 5 books at one time? A true bookworm, that kid. That'd be me, too. And I have a BN membership card, too! Love it.


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Item Reviewed: Bookseller Secrets and Stories: Pride, Prejudice, and the Kamasutra Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Michelle Schusterman