Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops

Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops by Shaun Bythell was a small book of 120 pages, wherein Bythell, the owner of a Scottish second-hand bookstore, takes a humorous look at those who patronize his store. He divided his customers into seven types (and subtypes within each chapter): Expert; Young Family; Occultist; Loiterer; Bearded Pensioner; The Not-So-Silent Traveller; and Family Historian. He himself was not immune to criticism as his final chapter was all about the various kinds of bookstore staff.

For such a short book I had numerous laugh-out-loud moments, as I recognized many such customers in my own book-buying trips. I couldn’t place myself into any of his categories, even among the most favorable type, the “perfect customer”, which he tagged on at the very end in a post-script chapter. I am the kind of customer who never haggles over prices which is in keeping with my preference to avoid dealing with any staff while I’m shopping. I like to browse and wander and do not need direction, unless I am in a hurry and don’t have the luxury of spending hours in the store. These are rare bookstore moments, as I usually allow myself plenty of time to find what I’m looking for. However if my time is limited I will ask the first staff person I see to point the way to foreign languages or local history and I will be off like a dart.

I loved the story about book-loving children, which Bythell had seen plenty of times where parents have a hard time dragging their kids out of the store. That’s exactly the way I reacted whenever I had to leave a bookstore–and often still do. My “give me five more minutes, I promise” is Craigspeak for needing an additional half hour.

In a story within the chapter on Bearded Pensioners, I liked the author’s imagery in describing the wardrobe of the “female of this species”:

“It’s a sort of green tartan waistcoat, made from the hardiest of tweed. It looks like the sort of thing that’s tough enough to drag through a hedge backwards without damaging a single stitch.”

Among the not-so-silent travellers are customers who whistle, hum or fart. What could be more annoying than hearing a whistler broadcast some tuneless pop song/TV theme song mishmash throughout the entire store?

I like to go hunting when I shop. Whether I’m looking for second-hand books or, back in the 1990’s when I would look for Christmas music in Sam the Record Man’s enormous holiday section, it paid to have the patience to dig through stacks of books or CD’s. I always found one-of-a-kind gems that had been overlooked. Like the customers below, our perseverance rewarded us with cheap loot:

“They’re clearly married, because the moment they enter the shop they split up and avoid one another for at least an hour while they ferret away, but when they come to the counter they will each have found at least five books in the shop which have been there since 1970, and which nobody has bothered to change the price of since then. These are books which ought to be £20 each, but which–by virtue of idleness on my part, combined with the fact that we have 100,000 books in the shop–have remained priced at £1 each. I have no idea how they hunt them out, but they do so with such determination–like pigs hunting for truffles every time they visit–that I feel that I should probably offer them each a job.”

Bythell ranks fiction collectors, railway collectors, sci-fi fans and those who are open to good advice as his best kind of customers. Those, as well as anyone who doesn’t haggle over his prices are tops in his book.

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