“There are persons esteemed on their reputation,” says the “Imitation of Christ,” “who by showing themselves destroy the opinion one had of them.” Though one might think it would be the other way, it is difficult, indeed, to sell a book to a friend of the author. “Oh, I know the man who wrote that,” is the reply. “I wouldn’t read a book of his.” You see, a great writer must be dead. A common error of book buyers is to confuse the words edition and copy. “Let me have a clean edition of this,” is frequently asked. Once a lady asked for something “bound in gingham.” No one, it is our belief, ever sold a light book to a Japanese. They are the book clerk’s dread. Terribly intelligent, somewhat unintelligible in their handling of our language, they always want something exceedingly difficult to find, something usually on military or political science, harbour construction or the most recondite form of philosophy.
Then there are the remarkable people who “keep up” with the flood of fiction; who say, “Oh, I’ve read that,” in a tone which implies that they are not so far behind as that! “Have you no new novels?” they inquire. Novels get “old,” one might suppose, like eggs, in a couple of days. The quest of these seekers of books suggests the story of the lady at a public library who, upon being told that seven new novels had come in that morning, said, “Give me, please, the one that came in last.” There are, too, those singular folks who appear regularly every year just before Christmas, buy a great quantity of books for presents, and disappear again until the next year just before the holiday season. What, we have wondered, do they do about books the rest of the time? Ministers are always very trying characters to book clerks. “Beware of the gallery,” says a fellow serf to us, “there’s a minister browsing around up there.” The official servants of the Lord fall, in the book clerk’s mind, into that class technically described by him as “stickers.” All gentlemen wearing high hats also belong to this classification. Deaf customers are embarrassing, for the reason that one always addresses one’s next customer as though he were deaf, too. Foreigners are invariably very polite to clerks. They bow when they enter and take off their hats upon leaving. Very respectful people. “There,” said a fellow thrall, “come two old women in at the door. Now, if I were my ancestor, I’d dance around that table with a stone club and brain them.” As it is, they ask, “Have you Hopkinson Smith’s ’Gondola Days’?” He says, “I think so.” A lady, very rich and important looking, wants a book “without an unpleasant ending.” “I wonder how this is” (looking at the last page). “No” (closing the book with a thump), “that won’t do.” A gentleman orders two sets of the Prayer Book and Hymnal, to be marked upon the cover with his name, the words Grace Church and his pew number. He informs us that every year while he is away in the summer his set of these books is stolen.