In fall 1917, a group of 15 women booksellers—excluded from membership in the ABA and the Booksellers’ League—met at Sherwood’s Book Store in Manhattan to form the Women’s National Book Association. Membership was open to women in all areas of the book world: publishers, editors, booksellers, authors, librarians, illustrators, and production people. Today the organization is nationwide, with 11 chapters; members are women (and men) who support the WNBA’s mission to promote and connect members of the book community.
As the organization prepares to celebrate its 100th year, research in the WNBA archives—housed at Columbia University—has turned up some treasures. The following bookseller quiz is condensed from a Depression-era issue of the WNBA newsletter, The Bookwoman, and is a reminder that some things seem never to change. The quiz will appear in the forthcoming book Women in the Book World: 100 Years of Leadership and the WNBA.
A Quiz for Bookwomen, from the Bookwoman, vol. 3, no. 1.
Are you employed in a bookshop? And how good are you at finding solutions to such vital questions as those given below? Send your answers to the editor, on or before January 15, 1939.
1. What is the correct answer to the pompous, “I want to talk to someone who knows the stock”?
2. What line of action do you pursue when you are told of a book you recommend, “Oh but that got an unfavorable review”?
3. What age level is advisable to suggest to the customer who says, “My son is nine, but he has the mentality of an eleven year old?”
4. Are more books damaged or is more customer goodwill gained by allowing a customer to copy recipes from cook books or to look up her latest dream in 100,000 Dreams Interpreted?
5. How old can a latest book be, when a customer says, “Oh, that’s not new. I saw that reviewed three weeks ago”?
6. How can you dispose of the browser, who having spent the afternoon “just looking” shows no sign of leaving, twenty minutes after closing time?
1. The correct answer to the pompous, “I want to talk to someone who knows the stock” in my case is “I believe I shall be able to help you Madam (or, Sir) as I ordered the entire stock myself and I am in the book business because I do want to help people select books.”
2. When the retort is “Oh, that got an unfavorable review!” my answer is “Well, reviewers are human, you know and perhaps the reviewer whose opinion you read did not like whimsy (or satire, or Texas, or realism in inland Mississippi, or whatever it may be) but I really believe that this is a book you will enjoy. Frankly, it demands a discriminating reader.”
3. When the proud mother says, “My son is nine but he has the mentality of an eleven year old,” the best age level is eight to ten. To be very sure you may inquire as to the things he has just read and if he liked Westward Ho or if he’s read Wind in the Willows. If you can get the mother to talk sensibly about his reading that will be a clue. However, the mother who pulls the mentality IQ stuff usually doesn’t talk sensibly.
4. Although I believe that more books are damaged in allowing customers to check on their dreams or copy recipes than goodwill is gained, I do not know the answer when you decide to say “No!” Then there is always the story of the old man who read about his dream and was so encouraged by it that he bought the $4.50 book on sex rejuvenation.
5. The answer to “Oh, that’s not new. I saw that reviewed three weeks ago” is “Isn’t it funny, though, that books like Gone With the Wind and Anthony Adverse are years old and still selling like new books. You know it doesn’t matter how old a book is, if it is worthwhile it continues to sell and to please its readers. I think if you have not read ....... you will enjoy it thoroughly.”
6. When the browser—who has spent the afternoon “just looking”—shows no sign of leaving twenty minutes after closing time, you might say, “I’m so sorry to have to disturb you, but a man from the termite company is coming to spray the floors. I’m afraid the odor will be terrific.”
Rosalind Reisner is the editor and a contributing author for the Women’s National Book Association centennial book. She is also a librarian and the author of Read on... Life Stories (Libraries Unlimited, 2009).