Mark, one of the owners of Mockingbird Books, is diligent at what I would call up-selling. When a person comes to the counter with a Stephen King paperback, he always remembers to point out the hardcovers on the 50% off cart. When someone buys a Jan Karon, he points out some specialty book in the series that we might have. He does not seem pushy or insincere when he does this. It’s clear that he wants to sell books; it’s also clear that he wants customers to get what they want.
I do not have this skill.
I was complaining to Brandy about that. She said it’s hard to do and she doesn’t have it either, although she feels comfortable making recommendations once a conversation has started. It is difficult to recommend books for people you don’t know.
Thursday, about three o’clock, a young man came in. I would guess he was twenty-four or twenty-five. He was shopping for Christmas gifts for his parents, and he wanted ideas. He thought maybe he wanted a coffee table book about planes for his dad, who is a pilot. I took him over to Transportation, where we had two coffee-table books, one about bi-planes and one dedicated to the Havilland Tiger Moth. He pulled both of them out and looked at them. He seemed to have some trouble deciding, but he was confident it would be one of them.
“What does your mom like?” I said.
He shrugged. “She likes a lot of stuff,” he said. “She likes books. She’s a librarian.”
An imaginary lightbulb compact-fluoresced over my head. “I know just the book,” I said, and hustled him over to Reference. There is was on the third shelf, my favorite funny grammar book, Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss. I reached out, and as my fingers nearly brushed the surface he said, “Oh, yeah! She loves that book. She gave it to all of us for Christmas one year.”
Curses! A go-to gift, foiled. “Does she read novels?”
“I think so.”
“Do you know if she likes a writer named Margaret Atwood?”
“I’ve heard her talk about Margaret Atwood, but I don’t know which ones she’s already read.”
Strike Two. I guided him into the fiction room and positioned us in front of the Poetry shelf. “Does she like poetry?”
“I guess so. She must, because I like poetry and she read it to me when I was a kid.”
I’m not too sure about the logic of that thesis, but I think he meant he learned to love it from her, but again, he didn’t really have any good ideas.
“Does she have hobbies?”
“She walks. She gardens.”
“What kind of garden?”
“You know, herbs, flowers, stuff.”
“Okay.” Back to the front of the store, to the Gardening section, we went. I pulled out a picture book on Japanese gardens. He really liked it. Going in another direction, I pulled out a beautifully photographed book on herb gardens. He really liked that too.
“I remember she likes the guy who write The Little Prince,” he said. “Did he write any other books?”
“Yes, he did,” I said, and Brandy helped me out, checking the database to find Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s memoir Wind, Sand and Stars. We had a rare edition, priced at $60, which we all agreed probably wasn’t what he was looking for. She checked the internet for him and found that it was reprinted in 2012. We suggested Copperfield’s could order it for her.
“Or you could get her a gift certificate,” I said.
“I could, but they live in Colorado.”
That was my third strike, but after he looked at our copy of Wind, Sand and Stars, he picked up the book next to it, a collection of Alan Ginsberg’s letters. When he left, he bought the bi-plane book and the Ginsberg book.
“That was a nice bit of hand-selling,” Brandy said.
I thought that sounded vaguely obscene. “I didn’t get him a book for his mother,” I said.
She shrugged. “No, but he knows where he can get one, and he walked out of here with two books,” she said.