Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops

book and bookselling related stuff.
i've written some books about this sort of thing.
'more weird things customers say in bookshops' is out now, published by Constable and Robinson.
more about that at

Are Your Books Real Friends?

I love this article I stumbled across in one of our old Girls’ Own Annuals in the bookshop today. ‘Are Your Books Real Friends?’ by Winifred S. Telford. It’s from 1930. It contains such gems as: ‘If you are already a book-lover, you will not need any urging to get intimate with your books. Put aside a special place for your book friends and do not place a single volume there until you feel real delight in its society; until you feel some real communion with its spirit, and have gained something from its pages that has helped you to a happier, nobler view of life.’

Utterly Unfair Tall Father Discount

Scarthin Books in the Peak District playfully hide pieces of paper with ‘Discount Coupons’ in amongst their bookshelves. People can find one that relates to them and use it. Such as an ‘Utterly Unfair Tall Father Discount.’ Ha. Love it.

The Bookshop That Floated Away


Sarah Henshaw is one of my favourite people. She runs a bookshop on a boat. The boat’s name is Joseph (though it’s officially known as The Book Barge), and she opened it in 2009. She even has a bookshop rabbit by the name Napoleon Bunnyparte. He’s rather cute.

When Sarah first had the idea for turning a 60ft narrowboat into a bookshop, she approached banks asking for start-up loans. Trying to be original, she presented her business plan to them in the form of a book, complete with fake reviews and pictures from Wind in the Willows to show how wonderful the bookshop would be once it was up and running. She even included illustrations of Cleopatra’s barge (from Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra):

The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne,

Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold;

Purple the sails, and so perfumèd, that

The winds were lovesick with them. 

The Book Barge was going to be amazing, the business plan declared; it was going to be the stuff of legend. “Help us do this!” Sarah grinned.

The banks raised their eyebrows, sighed, and said no. 

So, with help from her family, The Book Barge opened anyway. You can normally find it in Lichfield but, in 2011, when business wasn’t going well, Sarah decided to have A Great Adventure. She decided to up sticks for six months and take the boat over 1000 miles around the canals of the UK, selling books along the way. The Book Barge didn’t have a kitchen, a bathroom, or a loo, so she bartered books for these things instead, advertising her whereabouts on Twitter and Facebook, asking for food, the use of a shower etc and giving people stories in return. 

A little over a year ago, Sarah decided to start writing about those mad six months of her life, battling with canal locks and boat robbers and slightly mad customers (you might have spied a few quotes from Sarah in the back of Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops). And today, her book The Bookshop That Floated Away is published by Constable & Robinson. I’m so happy that you can all rush out and buy it, and I really urge you to do so. The book is hilarious, and Sarah’s a bit of a bookselling hero. 

Go on, go track a copy down. It’s bloody marvellous. 

Children Say The Best Things in Bookshops

It’s true.

Whilst customers say odd things sometimes, children say the best things: sometimes heart-warming, sometimes hilariously bizarre, because their imaginations are rather excellent.

Here are some of the things that have been said to me by children in our bookshop.*
*Prepare for the warm fuzzies.

Little boy: When I grow up, I’m going to be a book ninja!

Me: What’s a book ninja?
Little boy: I can’t tell you. It’s a secret. 

Little girl (whispers): They gave us Kindles to use at school, but I prefer books. 
Me: What do you love about books?
Little girl: (thinking hard): I like how quiet they are. 
Me: Yeah?
Little girl: Yeah. Stories should be quiet, and whisper to you inside your head.

Little girl (pointing to a cupboard under one of the bookshelves): Can you get to Narnia through there?
Me: Unfortunately, I don’t think you can.
Little girl: Oh. Our wardrobe at home doesn’t work for getting to Narnia, either.
Me: No?
Little girl: No. Dad says it’s because mum bought it at IKEA. 
Little girl: I’ve written a book. 
Me: Have you? What’s it about?
Little girl: I don’t know. It’s in my head. I haven’t read it yet.

Little boy: Mummy, who was Hitler?
Mother: Hitler?
Little boy: Yeah. Who was he?
Mother: Erm, he was a very bad man from a long time ago.
Little boy: Oh. How bad?
Mother: He was like… he was like Voldemort.
Little boy: Oh! That’s really, really bad.
Mother: Yes.
Little boy: (Pause) So… did Harry Potter kill Hitler, too?
Little girl: I like books because they’re like the stories in my head … but better… and with more dragons. 
(At the bookshop, a young boy came up to the counter, beckoned to me, and whispered):
Young boy: Just so you know, there’s a vampire hiding behind one of your bookcases.
Me: Oh, is there?
Young Boy: Yes. I heard it. I’ve read about them, and I know what they sound like.
Me: I see. Thank you for letting me know.
Young Boy: You’re welcome. (Pause.) Also, try not to anger it. They can be very aggressive.

(A young girl is looking at some pony books)
Me: Do you like horses?
Young girl: Yes. When I grow up I’m going to have a pony.
Me: That sounds like fun.
Young girl: Yes. And it will be better than all the other ponies.
Me: How come?
Young girl: Because mine will have a purple tail. And roller-skates. 

Young boy: You should put a basement in your bookshop. 
Me: You think so?
Young boy: Yeah. And then you could keep a dragon in it, and he could look after all the books for you when you’re not here.
Me: That’s a pretty cool idea. Dragons breathe fire, though. Do you think he might accidentally burn the books?
Young boy: He might, but you could get one who’d passed a test in bookshop-guarding. Then you’d be ok.
Me: …You know, I think you’re on to something there. 
Little girl: I like bookshops. They are houses for stories.

Some of the above are extracts from my books, Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops and More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops.’

Hello my beautiful blogettes!

Do you know that it is four and a half weeks until my manuscript deadline for ‘The Bookshop Book’? I am a mess of stressful excitement (that’s a slight exaggeration.) Mainly I’m worried about missing out something very important (imagine if I missed out my own bookshop, how hilarious would that be? Probably not so much).

Anyway! I am happily drowning in bookshops, and books about books, and books about bookshops that I bought in bookshops (SO META). On Monday I’m going to Hay on Wye (I can’t believe I’ve never been before). I’m road-tripping it with the lovely Sam who runs Books & Ink Bookshop in Banbury, and I shall be leaving the house at 5:30am. I am ready for all the books.

Next week I’m also chatting to Bill Bryson about his favourite books and bookshops, and I’ve been talking to Hank Green (of VlogBrothers awesomeness) about why he thinks bookshops are important places, too. I am seriously so excited to share this book with all of you when it’s published in October. I feel so lucky to have been able to research amazing bookshops, and talk to authors passionate about them, as well as being completely inspired by people like Luis Soriano - who runs a mobile library on the back of a donkey in Colombia.


Yep. That’s right.
Sometimes, the world is just an amazing place.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend. x

Happy World Poetry Day, folks!

Did you know that, in Shakespeare’s day, it was common practice to dig up dead bodies and burn them, to make room for the newly dead? Cheerful, eh? Shakespeare wasn’t a fan of this, so he wrote a ‘curse poem’ to go on his grave, to stop anyone digging him up:

Good friend for Jesus sake forbear, 
To dig the dust enclosed here. 
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.


So, to celebrate World Poetry Day, I’ve made a little video of me reading my poem ‘Kitchen.’
(NB: As far as I’m aware, this poem isn’t cursed.)

Customer: Do you have a book on immortality?
Me: On immortality?
Customer: Yes. I have a feeling that I might be immortal. I need to look up the symptoms, to see if I am.

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops