The Reality of Working in a Bookshop

When I was seventeen and applying for part-time jobs, to work in a bookshop was the pinnacle of all of my dreams. Although I did volunteer in a lovely Oxfam bookshop in Glasgow for a few months, I actually ended up working in a strange mixture of retail, admin and hospitality for the next few years. But a couple of months ago, those teenage aspirations were finally realised when I managed to secure a job in a bookshop. Yes, it’s still retail and yes, it’s very busy and yes, it’s not like I’ve got my dream job of an arts journalist (hire me?), but it’s miles better than scraping soup out of a sink and picking up rubbish after annoyingly entitled students. (Can you feel the underlying bitterness?) So here are the top 5 things I’ve learned from my new job in a bookshop!



Customers sometimes have the vaguest requests

‘Don’t know the author’s name, don’t know what the book’s called, but I know it’s got something about dogs in it…’ I’m exaggerating here, but you get the gist. Before this became a daily quest, I had no idea that so many people find it perfectly acceptable to wander into a bookshop with absolutely no clue about the title, author or synopsis, and expect the staff to rustle up the very book that they’re thinking of. Do your research, people! After deciphering some very hazy hints and finally alighting upon whatever book in question, it’s easy to feel a little bit like some goddess of wisdom. And that also goes for finding a book amidst a sea of unexpectedly intimidating shelves. Buoyed by unparalleled triumph, floating through the shop, holy grail in hand: these are the moments that being a bookseller is made for. Or, you know, just Google a lot and hope for the best.


The sight of untidy books can send me over the edge

Picture the scene: you’ve just spent a very frustrating hour tidying up the children’s section, battling with awkwardly large hardbacks about robots and the human body. Everything is looking pretty neat; there’s no sparkly fairy books inexplicably tossed onto the Harry Potter table, or piles of ‘My First Stories’ lying discarded across the floor. You’re feeling quite smug when, suddenly, CHAOS. Children stream in from every direction, prams slam beautifully intricate fairy-tale books to the floor and the scene abruptly resembles a game of dominos. You know, when the dominos have been wantonly knocked over in every direction by a charmingly mischievous child. (Full disclosure: Peppa Pig is fast becoming the bane of my existence) If that doesn’t sum it up eloquently enough for you, then let it be known that my newfound hobby is wandering around pushing slightly askew piles of books into ridiculously precise lines. I don’t think I’ll ever be the same again.

See below – books are far too tempting

I want to buy the majority of books in the shop

My addiction to books was bad enough when I only ambled around bookshops every now and then; unsurprisingly, it’s just been elevated to a whole new, disconcertingly tragic degree. Continually walking past promotional tables and enticingly arranged hardbacks is enough to send my reading list into a never-ending spiral of greed. Who knew cookbooks were so pretty? (I can’t cook.) Do I really need every single Vogue book in existence? (The answer is always yes.) Should I really buy that beautiful leather-bound edition of Pride and Prejudice? (Ditto.) Now I’m perennially faced with fascinating books filled with everything from architectural detail to stunning photos of Scotland; tips for travel writing and big fat history books about Victorian servants. I’m even contemplating buying a fantasy novel.


My knowledge of contemporary literature is so much more

A couple of weeks ago my dad named a few books he wanted to buy. ‘The Sympathiser? Yeah that’s been really popular.’ ‘Where My Heart Used to Beat? The new Sebastian Faulks? Oh yeah we’ve got loads of them in.’ As a voracious reader of classics, I rarely stray into contemporary fiction unless I’m tempted by a Buy One Get One Half Price deal in Waterstones. And even then, the titles are all usually a surprise to me. Now, for the first time in my life not only can I say that I know the favourite for the Booker Prize (shock horror!), but I’ve actually read it too. I mean, it’s probably about time my reading tastes entered the twenty-first century, but maybe I’m not quite ready for a leap away from historical fiction quite yet…


The joy of the discount is real

It’s probably going to be the ruination of both my bank account and my dining room ceiling (can there be too many books piled in a corner?) but 50% employee discount is a beautiful, beautiful thing. I’ve only had one (mini) splurge so far, but I felt quite reckless knowing that no matter what I buy, the price will be sliced neatly in half. Although it’s undoubtedly safe to say that everyone knows what they’ll be getting for Christmas this year (for which, incidentally, I have already had to prepare in the bookshop), it’s inevitable that a high amount of these Christmas presents will be for myself. As Tom and Donna would say, treat yo self.

Parks and Recreation: inspirational words for us all.

2 thoughts on “The Reality of Working in a Bookshop

  1. Having worked in a library for years I can recognise much of this, especially one and two. “It’s got a blue cover….” etc. Worse, the students with quotes vital to their research but who had forgotten to note the reference – and expected us to recognise it. Occasionally it’s possible to solve the mystery, and you’re right – it feels great!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah it’s so good when you actually manage to find the book, or just know immediately what one they’re talking about! Although trying to find a book is definitely harder than most people think…


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