(…except for maybe Sam Walton’s in Salt Lake City. And I haven’t been to Powell’s yet, so I don’t know about that one.)
I only make it to Barnes & Noble approximately twice a year, and usually only then when I’ve received a gift card for B&N, or when I’m in the company of somebody else who is shopping for something specific–as was the case yesterday, when I found myself in Barnes & Noble with my friend Betsy. She took off to ask an employee for help, and left me standing half in the aisle between Sci-Fi/Fanstasy and Christianity, digging through the C.S. Lewis selection. An elderly gentlemen was rooting through the same shelf as I was, so we periodically switched places as I worked my way up the shelf, and he, down. Finally he announced, “I really thought they’d have a copy of The Hobbit here somewhere, but I don’t see it.”
Now, it happens rather often that, when I’m in bookstores browsing, somebody invariably mistakes me for an employee. Maybe it’s because the sight of somebody drifting aimlessly up and down an aisle in the search for a specific author that I know is in the next aisle over evokes a deep sort of sympathy in me, and more often than not I can’t help sidling up to them and saying, “Excuse me–did you say you were looking for Jane Smiley?” and steering them politely into the S section, rather than the J.
But I have no idea what it is that makes people approach me as I rummage through the Ian McEwan selection and ask if I work here, but this has actually been noticable enough to warrant a job offer from Henderson Books on two separate occasions. Maybe it’s my tendency to compulsively straighten books–I don’t know.
So, anyway, by the time Betsy came back to where she’d left me, I was off in some back corner of Sci-Fi/Fantasy, helping my new friend find Tolkien, while discussing some fascinating little-known facts about Tolkien that I recently discovered while reading his biography (for example: did you know that he wrote the Elvish language “Quenya” first, and that The Silmarillion and, eventually, The Lord of the Rings, sprung up around it as he created a mythology of the people he supposed might speak his language?). I think there’s probably a calling in there somewhere.