Tales of the book trade

by Andy Mitchell

The other day a woman approached the front desk and asked me if I sold sandwiches. I get asked a lot of strange questions in the bookstore, but this one was a first. While I do sell t-shirts, mugs, theater tickets and the occasional book, I have never in my recollection sold a single sandwich.

I think you’re looking for the Soap Co. Coffee House.”

No, I don’t want soap or coffee.”

But they have really good sandwiches, too.”

Have you ever had one?”


What kind do they have?”

I was about to say: the kind with bread and stuff in the middle, when, thankfully the phone rang.


Yes, I was wondering if you could tell me something about the new Ken Bradbury play.”

It’s about the life of Robert Earl Hughes.”

Is there very much about fishing in it?”


Yeah, I heard it was about some fisherman.”

I was about to say: No, that’s “Jesus Christ Superstar,” when a customer, book in hand, stepped out of the second room and stopped beside the woman enquiring about sandwiches.

Can I purchase this book?”

I was about to say, Dear God, yes(!), when Sandwich Lady interrupted.

So, do they have any normal type sandwiches, or just weird ones that are healthy?”

I was about to ask whether or not she considered egg salad normal, when the person on the phone started yelling.

Are you still there!?”

I’m sorry, sir, I’ve got customers. Besides, the play is sold out.”

You mean there ain’t no tickets left?”

I wanted to say: that’s what sold out means. Instead, I said: that’s correct, sir.

Meanwhile Sandwich Lady wondered if the coffee shop only served “paneras.”

You mean, ‘paninis?’ No, you can get sandwiches made with bagels or regular bread.” Of course I knew by this point Sandwich Lady had no clue what a bagel was, and desperately wanted regular bread with something easily pronounced (preferably monosyllabic) between it. Something like ham. That’s when I had an epiphany.

You know what,” I said, “There’s a place around the corner called Norma’s. Why don’t you check it out?”

It was unclear to me whether or not SL took my advice. As she finally made her departure, she wandered off as others wandered in (with more interesting questions).

So, is this like a library where you rent books?”

No, we sell our books. You pay for them and then you get to keep them forever. Or until you decide to loan them to your friends, in which case, you will never see them again.”

The books or the friends?” she asked.

Both,” I said. And it’s true. Once I bought the same book twice. I mean the exact same copy. I had loaned it to a “friend,” who in turn sold it to a used book dealer, who in turn sold it back to me. I’ve always wanted to ask my “friend” about the book, but I’ve never seen him again. I doubt if I ever will. Such are the trials and tribulations of this wonderful, albeit sometimes strange, trade. The book trade. I love it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.   

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