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Unexpected Conflict at the Used Book Store

June 24, 2020

(image via wikimedia)

When I went to the used book store a few days ago, I was excited because I hadn’t been surrounded by so many books for so long.  Before the lockdowns and the masks, I would go to the city’s main branch public library once every couple weeks, but that has been closed since mid-March, so I’ve been stuck with the remnants of my once great book collection.  And that collection is in a closet.

Believe me, I still have plenty of books at home that I haven’t read.  After I finished reading my library books, I read East of Eden by John Steinbeck, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John LeCarre, and Texas by James Michener.  I was even challenged by some guy to read Ulysses by James Joyce, but I told that guy that being in a lockdown was enough punishment for a while.  I’m still reading The Bible too.  All those books are worth talking about, except Ulysses.  I’m not talking about Ulysses.

Before I left for the used book store, I made sure to clean my mask.  I usually only wear a mask in grocery stores (I don’t go out much), and I never spend much time there, so I don’t worry about how clean my mask is then.  But I knew I’d be in the book store for a while.  I even got a new filter.  Yeah, I know people get upset about when and where and how you should wear masks, but I’m not that kind of blogger, and I’m just telling you what I did.

As soon as my daughter and I walked into the used book store, she almost ruined the trip by asking an employee for help.  She has one book for her summer reading list and… wait a minute… only ONE BOOK!?!?  A couple summers ago, she had five books.  Now she’s older and has only one book.  That doesn’t make sense.  And that book is 1984 by George Orwell.  Schools must have given up right after the pandemic started.  They even gave up on their massive summer reading lists.

Anyway, my daughter asked the employee where 1984 by George Orwell would be.  I was disappointed In her.  You never ask a book store employee where a book is.  You find the book yourself.  Only people who can’t read ask for help finding books.

“We could have found the book ourselves,” I said to my daughter as the employee led us around the store.

“This is faster,” she said.

“No, it isn’t,” I said.  “I know exactly where 1984 is.  Fiction/Literature.  Right there.”  I pointed to the correct shelf before the employee got there.

“Hmmmfff,” my daughter said and shrugged her shoulders.

There were two copies of the book, one that spelled out Nineteen Eighty-Four and 1984.

“Go with the numerical title,” I said.  “Nobody spells out years.”

My daughter agreed.  That was the cheaper book and it was in better condition.  No bloodstains or boogers.

“Check for missing pages,” I said.  That had happened a few years ago when I’d bought a really nice old copy of Dr. Zhivago for a really cheap price.  Then I got home and discovered it was missing 30 pages.  The used book store didn’t do returns.  I didn’t even try.  Jerks.

My daughter started walking to the check-out counter.

“I want to browse a few minutes,” I said.

“I already have what I want,” my daughter said.

“I’ve waited four months to be surrounded by books I don’t already own,” I said.  “I want to browse.”

“I’m the one who drove,” she said.

“I’m the one paying for your car,” I said.  “And your insurance.”

She shrugged again.  I set my timer for 15 minutes.  I wanted an hour, but my daughter had things to do.

As I waited for a woman to leave the Antique Books alcove (only one customer at a time for each alcove, according to the signs), I strolled through a couple nearby sections.  I was still disappointed that my daughter had asked an employee for help.  I had never taught her not to do that, though, so maybe it’s my fault.  I just thought it was an understood unwritten rule: You don’t ask for help at a bookstore.  Maybe it’s a generational thing.

When it was finally my turn to enter the Antique Books alcove, I grabbed an old edition of some classic (I didn’t care what it was).  I couldn’t smell the pages through my mask, so I pulled it down over my nose and breathed in.


I turned around and saw some woman behind me pointing at her mask and staring at me.  Ugh, I thought, a mask enforcer… and she wasn’t even an employee.  Just so you know, I respect employee mask-enforcers.  But busybody mask enforcers?

“Please step back,” I said in my loud fake police voice.  “Only one customer per alcove.”  I pointed to the overhead sign.  Haha!  The woman hadn’t seen it, so all her moral authority was gone.  That has to be a bad feeling, to believe you’re superior with moral authority only to find out that your own behavior is just as bad.

I sniffed the book one more time.  Then I pulled the mask up over my nose again.  I was tempted to hang out longer in the Antique Books section just to antagonize the mask enforcer, but that would have been wrong, so I left and gave her the nod, and she returned the nod.  Everything was cool.

I bought a couple cheap paperbacks but nothing noteworthy.  I paid for my daughter’s book too.  Maybe I’ll read 1984 before my daughter gets to it.  Some people call it a warning for the future.  I think of it as a history lesson.  I wondered if the characters had to wear masks in 1984.


What do you think?  Should you ask for help at a book store?  Is it okay to pull down your mask to smell the pages of an old book?  Would you buy Nineteen Eighty-Four or 1984?

  1. J. Sánchez Guevara permalink

    Maybe if I’m searching for something particular and I’m in a hurry i will ask for help, but sometimes people in charge of the store don’t keep track of every book. I miss going to the used book store, here is still closed.

    • “Maybe if I’m searching for something particular and I’m in a hurry i will ask for help,…”

      I understand if you’re really in a hurry. I solve that problem by not going to the book store (or library) when I’m in a hurry. Next time, I might not take my daughter.

  2. It’s been over 6 years since I ventured into a bookstore – working 50+ hours a week with a needy but lovable doggie does that…. lol However, the last time was in a Barnes & Noble, and I must have spent a good couple hours there, just perusing the aisles, never asking for help, with coffee in hand… it was glorious!

    • Did you buy anything?

      It’s sometimes glorious to wander for hours (with coffee in hand) and then NOT buy anything. But that might just be the cheapskate in me.

  3. I am a firm believer in sniffing things. I think most mothers are. I am also a reader who enjoys the feel of a real book in my hands. So, naturally, I support your right, nay, everyone’s right to sniff the pages. I also HIGHLY recommend that everyone read Orwell’s “Nineteen-Eighty-Four.” It’s a crazy-scary look at a Totalitarian state. It’s a classic for a reason!
    As for the mask-thing, I don’t know if I can be fair about a response. I absolutely loathe wearing them. I still haven’t bought one. I have older face masks that we bought when we did some work around the house. Thank God I am in a city that doesn’t require us to wear them all the time! I’d go crazy otherwise. Of course, I am a law-abiding citizen and will wear the appropriate attire as required by whichever establishment I am in.
    I really enjoyed your post!

    • Haha! You spelled out Nineteen Eighty-Four!

      I’m not wild about masks either, but the city mandates them for businesses, and I’m a law-abiding guy. A couple/few weeks ago in my city, there were some mostly peaceful gatherings filled with people who didn’t social distance or wear masks, and now our city is going through a spike in a certain virus, and the city politicians are blaming the general population for not being in compliance.

      Sigh! City politicians! I’d give them copies of 1984, but they’d probably see it as an advice manual.

  4. Yes, you can sniff and then put the mask back on. I do this at the grocery store. I think it’s okay for that generation to ask for help; they’ve grown up with a maid like Alexa to do all their bidding, when the only maid I knew as a kid was sassy Florence on The Jeffersons. We did have to read 1984 in school, but now I always hear the Oingo Boingo song in my head, when people reference the book. “Wake up, it’s 1984 … “

    • “…when the only maid I knew as a kid was sassy Florence on The Jeffersons.”

      Let’s see… there was Alice on the Brady Bunch. I remember Hazel was on reruns in the morning. I thought Maude had a maid too, but I had to look up the show to make sure. There were a lot of butlers too.

      Haha! You would think those TV characters could tidy up their own homes; no wonder they had time to be interesting enough to have their own shows.

  5. Sierra Kondos permalink

    I own a bookstore and I help customers locate the books they need every day. I truly believe the courteousness brings them back to the shop. However, I have not witnessed mask enforcers in the shop other than myself. We have a mask mandate still in effect, of course. Also, I enjoyed your article. I love that you miss being among books, but I am disappointed that your daughter did not allow you to browse and enjoy the experience. I couldn’t imagine rushing my father that way. He would not have appreciated that one bit, and would have told me so loudly.
    I hope you get to revisit the bookshop soon….

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