I'd suggest A. "No," the student would say, "I don't know anything about A."
How about B? "No, I hate B."
C? "I've written about C a million times. I'm bored with C."
After about 15 minutes of offering suggestions that the student dismissed, I'd give up. The lack of a subject for writing then became my problem, because I wasn't creative enough to think of a perfect, interesting, inspiring subject for the kid.
And so it is with bookselling. Only worse. Instead of a single topic in expository writing, I'm faced with millions of books--and the loonies.
Earlier this week a customer came in and bought a book. Before she left, she told the staffer that she wanted to talk with the owner.
"Hi, I'm P-doobie, the owner," I said. "How may I help you?"
"Do you read U. S. News and World Report?" she asked. I told her I didn't. "Well, you should," she replied. I asked her why. "I'm not going to tell you, because you should already know. You should just buy a copy and find out." I thanked her warmly for the tip and started to go back to the office. She said, "You should read it because it has those lists of books."
I turned back. "A best-seller list?"
"Yes. You should have a best-seller list." She was standing in front of the best-seller shelves.
I said, "We do have a best-seller list, and it's published every Thursday in the Monitor. And here," I said gesturing to the books, "are the best-sellers in independent bookstores throughout the country."
She said, "I know that. I don't like those books [gesturing at the shelves], and there's nothing on the Monitor list that I want to read. Too sciencey."
"We also publish a monthly best-seller list in our email newsletter. Would you like to subscribe?" I asked.
"No," she said. "I hate email, and I don't want your list. I want a list like the one in U. S. News and World Report."
"What makes it different and special to you?" I asked.
"I'm not going to tell you. You should just buy a copy and find out for yourself."
I thanked her again and turned to head back to the office.
"It has a list of books and one line about each one."
I returned to the counter and said, "When someone on our staff reads a book they like, they write a note about it and put the note in the book. See?" I showed her many of the best-sellers and all the staff-picks section with shelf-talkers.
"I don't want to read those," she said. "They're too long. I don't want to read a lot."
"'Looks like war, Miss Scarlett.' 'Fiddle-dee-dee!' 'BOOM!' Now this is Gone with the Wind as it should have been written!"