A Trip to The Bookstore

A Trip to The Bookstore

Note: this is a re-post of an article which originally appeared in this blog on 2011/02/20. I am scheduled for major surgery on January 17th, and I don’t know how quickly I’ll be able to write after that. So, to keep the content going, I am pre-scheduling posts. It’s possible conditions have changed since I wrote it, but I’ll try to lightly edit these when that’s necessary for clarity. 

Grandpa: Okay, kids, here we are…The Bookstore.

Watson (a six-year old boy): Yay!  We’re at the bookstore!  What’s a bookstore, Grandpa?

StefJo (a nine-year old girl): It’s a site where they sell books, BeeSOD.

Grandpa: We don’t call them sites when we are there in person, StefJo…we call them stores.  And don’t call your brother names.

StefJo: Yes, Grandpa.

Salesclerk: Hi, can I help you folks find something?

(Watson starts crying and hides behind Grandpa)

StefJo (whispering): Grandpa, why is that man talking to us?  We don’t know him.

Grandpa (whispering): It’s okay, StefJo…he works for the store.  You just say, “No thank you, we’re just looking.”

StefJo: No thank you, we’re just looking.

Salesclerk: Well, if you folks want anything, just let me know.  (leaves)

StefJo: I don’t understand, Grandpa.  Why would a stranger talk to us like that?

Grandpa: Well, the store would pay them to do that.  That way, he can help us find some books to buy.

StefJo: Why can’t we find them ourselves?

Grandpa: We can…but this is a big place, we might need help.

StefJo: Can’t we just do a search?

Grandpa: There might be a computer around here some place–

Watson: I have a phone!

Grandpa: I know you do, Byte-Byte.  That won’t help us here, though.  Your phone won’t know which books are where.

StefJo: What do you mean?  Don’t they bring us the books?

Grandpa: No, we walk around the store and look.  See those signs?  They tell us what kind of books are where.  We just need to find the Children’s section.

Watson: Carry me!

Grandpa: Hop up here, Sport.  I think I see the children’s books over there.

(Grandpa carries Watson over to the children’s books section.  StefJo walks up to a shelf of Young Adult books.)

StefJo: Look, Grandpa, they have Nancy Drew!  (She touches the picture on the spine of the book.  She rubs her fingers up and down the spine.)  Grandpa, I can’t get it to open.

Grandpa: You have to take it off the shelf first.  Just get one finger on the top, like this, and you can tilt it towards you and pull it off.  Okay, there’s a comfortable chair…why don’t you sit there and read?  I’m going to help your brother find a book.

StefJo: Sure, Grandpa.

(Grandpa takes Watson to an area with picture books.  He pulls out a copy of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, and starts Watson looking at the book)

StefJo: Grandpa!

Grandpa: What is it, Princess?

StefJo: I got the book open, but it isn’t in English.  How do I change it?

Grandpa: It’s not?  Oh, I see, you have the book upside down.

StefJo: Oh.

Grandpa: Were you reading this book before we came here?

StefJo: No, why?

Grandpa: Well, you’re in the middle of the book.

StefJo: I didn’t know how to make it go to the beginning.

Grandpa: You just start over here on this side.  Then, as you finish reading a page, you turn to the next one…like this.

StefJo: Thanks, Grandpa.  Are these numbers the percentages?  This is short!

Grandpa: No, those are page numbers.  See?  Every time you turn the page, the number gets higher.

StefJo: But I tried and the number was like ten higher!

Grandpa: You must have turned too many pages.  You have to be careful just to get one of them.

StefJo: That’s hard!

Grandpa: You’ll get used to it.

StefJo: Oops!  The page has a big line on it!

Grandpa: Let me see that…oh, it looks like you tore the page!

StefJo: I’m sorry, Grandpa.

Grandpa: Oh, that’s okay, that happens.  We’ll just have to buy this one.  We can tape it up when we get home.

StefJo: What’s tape?

Grandpa: I think they sell it here.  You use it to stick two pieces of paper together.

StefJo: What’s paper?

Grandpa: That’s what the pages are made of.  If we tape it together, it won’t tear any more.

StefJo: Why don’t they just make the whole book out of tape, then?

Grandpa: That’s a good question, Stef.  Let’s go see how your brother is doing.  Hey, Byte-Byte…where is the book?

Watson: I deleted it.

Grandpa: You deleted…what do you mean?

Watson: I got done, so I threw it away.

Grandpa: Why did you do that?  Why didn’t you put it back on the shelf?

Watson: I didn’t like it.  It didn’t sing to me like at home.

Grandpa: Where did you throw it away?

Watson (starting to cry again): Over there!

(Grandpa fishes the book out of a garbage can)

Grandpa: Well, we’re lucky they have old-fashioned garbage cans here, too, and not recyclatrons.  We’ll just have to buy this one, too.

Watson: I don’t want it!  I don’t want it! (crying and screaming)

Grandpa: Watson!  Calm down!

StefJo: Couldn’t we just put it back on the shelf?  It looks okay.

Grandpa: Yes, you’re right.  It’s okay, Sport, it’s okay!  You don’t have to have the book.

StefJo: Grandpa, look out!  It’s that man again!  We’re just looking, we’re just looking!

Salesclerk: Everything okay here, folks?

Grandpa: Yes, yes.  I’m afraid there was a little misunderstanding, and my grandson here threw this book in the garbage.  I’d be happy to pay for it…

Salesclerk: Don’t worry about it…happens all the time.  I’ve seen kids do a lot worse things to books.  We’ll just put it back right here, and someone else can buy it.

StefJo (whispering): Are all the books dirty like that?

Grandpa (whispering): It’s not dirty, but you never know what someone else has done with a book you buy.

StefJo: Ew!

Grandpa: Unfortunately, we did damage this one…I insist on buying it.

Salesclerk: That’s fine, then.  Come right over here to the check-out.  That one is one hundred dollars.

Grandpa: That’s more than what we paid for our admission tickets to this place.

StefJo: I’m sorry, Grandpa.

Grandpa: Oh, that’s okay, Princess.  It’s fun for Grandpa to buy a book like in the old days.

StefJo: Will you carry it for me?  It’s heavy.

Grandpa: Sure, Princess.

StefJO: Where are we going next?

Grandpa: To The Pet Store.  I understand they have some real live dogs and cats.

StefJo: You mean alive alive?

Grandpa: I think so.

StefJo: That’s scary!  I don’t think Watson would like that.

Grandpa: Yes, you’re a smart girl.  I can see how that might scare him.  You are much braver, aren’t you?

(StefJo gives a shy smile)

Grandpa: Where would you like to go, Sport?

Watson: I wanna eat.

Grandpa: We can go to The Food Court.  They have some amazing things there!

StefJo: Do they have broccoli?  I like broccoli.

Grandpa: Wouldn’t you like to try something from when your parents were kids?  I’ll bet they’ll have a Happy Meal!  Doesn’t that sound good?

StefJo: I guess so.  People aren’t going to talk to us there, right?

Grandpa: Well, there is usually somebody behind the counter who takes our orders.  But they won’t come to the table.

Watson (looking confused): What’s a table?

Grandpa: I’ll show you when we get there.  It’s a place where we all sit down together and talk to each other.

StefJo: The olden days sure were hard, Grandpa.

Grandpa: I guess they were in some ways, Princess.  But you know what was always the same?

StefJo: What’s that?

Grandpa: There were always grandpas who loved their grandkids very much.

Watson: I love you, Grandpa!

Grandpa: I love you too, Sport!  Let’s go get some fries…and later on, I’ll show you a car!

(The three of them start to leave The Bookstore together, Grandpa holding StefJo’s hand, StefJo holding Watson’s hand.  In Grandpa’s other hand is a bag, and in it is a book.)

Grandpa: You kids wait here for a minute…play with your phones.

(Grandpa walks over to the salesclerk who is dusting off some books)

Grandpa: Sir?  Would you mind very much if I gave you this back?

Salesclerk: I’m afraid I can’t give you a refund…you said it was damaged.

Grandpa: I don’t want a refund.  You can just put it back on the shelf.  I was thinking about it…I don’t think their parents are going to want me to bring it home: they wouldn’t have any place to put it.  I think it belongs here, where other kids can see it.

Salesclerk: But what about your granddaughter?  Didn’t you buy it for her?

Grandpa: Don’t worry about it…she won’t even miss it.

Salesclerk: As you wish, sir.  Thank you for shopping with The Bookstore.  We’ll look forward to seeing you again.

Grandpa: Maybe when the kids are older…I think they’ll appreciate the history of it more.  Think you’ll still be around in five years?

Salesclerk: Why certainly, sir.  We’ve been doing business the same way for over one hundred years.  Now that we are entirely government supported, there’s no reason we can’t keep doing it for the next hundred.

Grandpa: See you in five years, then.

(Grandpa walks back towards the kids, but stops a meter away.  Neither child looks up.  They haven’t noticed him yet.  Watson is shaking his phone wildly with his eyes closed, playing some kind of game with tactile feedback or a machine-brain interface.  StefJo sits quietly, reading as the pages turn automatically for her.  Grandpa remembers back to lying under a blanket reading with a flashlight, or sitting under a tree with a book.  He recognizes that look on her face…she’s wherever the book has taken her…Mars, Oz, Fairlyland…or a time long ago when people did things in strange ways.  He knows that look, and he smiles.  Some things never change.)

[2019 note: this has been the only one of my works to date where I authorized a translated version (to Portuguese…that was thrilling! There may be others out there that are infringing, of course, and in the future, simple translations may be handled effectively by artificial intelligence…but I do think it will be some time before that will be anywhere near what a really skilled human translator can do.]

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All aboard The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

 This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

27 Responses to “A Trip to The Bookstore”

  1. Harold Delk Says:

    Loved it; you made my morning!

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Harold!

      Thanks also for the kind words! I haven’t done a fiction/humor piece in a while, and while I really like them, I know not everyone does. Nice to have the encouragement, and know I made a difference. 🙂

  2. Mike Says:

    Good story – so scary though! In 2005 I got very sick and was in the hospital for 18 months and have been mostly bed-ridden since then. During this time my son married a gal with three almost-teens. I have to say my experience with the grandkids is so much like your story! I am just so out of it and have no idea what challenges they have to face being kid, and what my son and his wife have to deal with raising them. I can tell you it doesn’t take long being isolated in this day and age to find yourself totally left-behind and clueless. What makes me sad is that it seems that kids are forced to be “grown up” way too soon. I guess things in the world have just moved so much faster than I would have believed – you close your eyes for five years and it’s a whole new world. I feel like Rip Van Winkle, I don’t know if I’ll ever catch up with what’s cool and what isn’t. Not too sure I want to change my definitions anyway!
    I enjoy your blog most mornings with my coffee – thanks for the smiles you’ve brought me. Mike Van Winkle

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Mike!

      Thanks for sharing that! It’s interesting, because people both grow up quickly…and stay kids longer. So many New Millenials value fun and play and relaxation and hanging with a small group of friends more than, say, Baby Boomers do…who can sometimes define themselves more by what they do for a living. It varies, of course, but there can be that tendency.

      Hmm…I’m not sure I found the story scary. Interesting perspective…thanks!

  3. Chris Says:

    Great story Bufo,

    It is kind of scary because I can very easily see myself being the grandfather in 50-60 years. I got my Kindle DX as a gift back in October of 2009 and really had to be talked into it because I couldn’t imagine that I would like it because there just is something about the feeling of holding a book in my hands and turning the pages (though I could do without the paper-cuts!) which doesn’t translate into pressing a button to turn the page. But I haven’t read a DTB in over a year and have come to realize the benefits of E-book Readers though I still have that nostalgia that will no doubt still be there for many years.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Chris!

      I appreciate the kind words!

      Hmm…you are the second person who thought the story was scary. I didn’t think I was writing a horror story. 🙂

      I’m an inveterate booklover myself, with something like ten thousand books on shelves in my home. I didn’t think I would like e-books, either, but now, I really prefer it.

      I’m also a former bookstore manager…but I didn’t personally find the story scary. That’s one of the fun things about writing, though…I don’t usually know where it is going when I start, and when it moves people, that’s especially rewarding. If it moves them in ways I hadn’t exactly planned, it shows that it has a life outside of me…which is cool. 🙂

  4. Chris Says:

    The story itself isn’t scary per se. It more is that I see myself as the grandfather who was around in the dawning of a new era (as we all are). Before e-books there really had not been a change in the way books were presented to people in hundreds of years (besides books on tape).

    All we really had were books made of paper where the pages had to be turned by hand and now there are electronic books where the pages are turned by pressing a button. Also, I have close to 500 books on my Kindle (not even 1/6 of its capacity) which if in paper form would have taken up several shelves but only takes up a device which is the size of a notebook. Shoot, you have about 10,000 books at home which would only take up 3 DXs (subject to the size of the files each book takes up).

    So yeah I am terrified to read the story and see myself as that grandfather who has lived in both worlds and is trying to introduce the grandchildren to a simpler and very nostalgic way of reading. I sort of see it as someone who lived before the car was invented and when trying to teach the younger generations how to use a horse and cart and the youngster asks where the clutch is for the horse! LOL

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for that, Chris!

      Whew! I was worried I had snuck a zombie attack in there without me noticing. 😉

      More interesting was my Signficant Other saying it wasn’t clear whether I thought e-books were a good thing or not by the story…I like that.

      I’d say that mass market paperbacks were a huge change in delivery (on the heels of dime novels and penny dreadfuls). A lot of people resisted that, which was interesting as well.

      It’s interesting to me that you relate the 10,000 books to 3 DXs (also 3 Kindle 3s, by the way). I think I’ve made the switch that a lot of younger people have. I don’t think about where I would put the 10,000 e-books…it’s how I would access them when I want to read them. I’ve stopped thinking about having the stuff in my house or my physical possession, for the most part.

      That’s going forward…I’m still not ready part with the things I have. 😉

  5. Elanor Says:

    I thought the “store” had a certain “Stepford” quality to it. Especially that last line of the salesclerk.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Elanor!

      I’m glad you picked up on that. 🙂

      In my mind, this is essentially a tourist attraction…a person playing a salesclerk…and an idealized one at that. When was the last time you went into a chain bookstore and were greeted by somebody? 🙂 I’m a former bookstore manager, and we did acknowledge everybody who entered…but that was more than ten years ago, and much smaller than a Borders or a Barnes & Noble.

  6. Jen White Says:

    Bufo ~ Thank you for good memories! I’m amazed at how quickly I’ve made the transition from p-bookstore owner/manager to very happy Kindle 3 owner! Guess I’m a reader at heart and being able to have LOTS of them together with the dictionaries, internet access etc all the time is WONDERFUL! At lunch today, we started talking about a word we’d heard this morning and I looked it up on my Kindle that I had in my purse and read it to the “gang!” It’s sort of like having my whole Bookstore with me only better! And “ordering” is SO much faster than the “special orders” we did in the store that took 1 to 2 weeks to come in! Thanks for being my teacher! Jen!

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Jen!

      Yes, it’s amazing stuff! Once you make the mental shift that the book is the words the author wrote and not the container, how could a booklover not love having hundreds of thousands of books available at a moment’s notice?

      Thanks for the kind words!

  7. Daz Says:

    I loved the bit where the little girl freaks out and yells “We’re just looking! We’re just looking!” A great piece and a wonderful (if a little scary for some) glimpse into the future.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Daz!

      I really appreciate the specific feedback! That was one of the things I thought came out the best, too.

      As a former bookstore manager, I was very aware of the rituals. I’ve seen many times where a salesclerk says (just as you walk in the store), “Can I help you find something?” and the ritual response is, “I’m just looking.” Five minutes later, the shopper is desperately trying to find someone because the shopper can’t find something specific in the store! You have to break that pattern.

      It’s very tricky in a bookstore…or really, any fun-to-browse store. I’d tell my employees that people should be acknowledged when they come in…it could be silently, but openly. If they don’t ask for help, just be available…like teaching (which is what I do), a lot of it is empathy. You have to know when they want help and when they don’t…and leave them alone in the store if they don’t.

      The simplest trick is to change the question. Instead of, “Can I help you find something?” you can use, “What can I help you find?” Just that little change will break the ritual “call and answer”, usually.

      And yes, it’s always seemed a bit odd that the ritual is “Can I help you…” instead of “May I help you…”. Obviously, the customer doesn’t know if the clerk can or can not help…but the presumption should be that they can. 🙂

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  9. fairy dust Says:

    I loved this! I loved how the little girl didn’t even understand how to open a book, where to start, and how to turn a page – things we still totally take for granted. I must say, the Grandpa has infinitely more patience with these kids than I probably would with my own in that same situation 🙂

    It reminds me a little of being glued to the TV set in my own room as a kid and having my mother try to explain that when she was a kid, they all huddled around the *one* radio in the living room to LISTEN to stories, shows, adventures, etc. Huh? My son, meanwhile, can’t fathom a time without PCs and online games… It *is* kind of scary.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, fairy dust!

      I really appreciate the kind words! I never quite know how the fiction will go over, and it’s very rewarding to have someone tell me that they like it.

      One of the nice things, though, is that we now respect the older content, even if we don’t know how to use the old hardware. I was happy the little girl knew who Nancy Drew was. 🙂 I listen to Old Time Radio in the car sometimes…on my Kindle.

      That’s very different than it was, say, in the late 1940s. Early television shows were commonly recorded over (the ones that were recorded at all). There wasn’t a sense that people would want to see them again in the future, and tape was expensive.

      When television was able to bring old movies into our homes in the 1960s, that was one of the factors that really brought about a nostalgic respect for pop culture, in my opinion. The Judy Garland Wizard of Oz was considered a flop until it started getting regular TV showings. When the old horror movies were released in a package to TV, we saw Dracula, Frankenstein, and a lot of the old movies. That created the sub-group of what are called “Monster Kids”…the Baby Boomers who were into those Universal Horrors.

      I think that’s a positive thing. Pop culture is a thing of its time, and we touch that time when we experience it now.

      I love that I can watch the 1910 Thomas Edison (company) version of Frankenstein…on my cell phone. 🙂

      Your son will have access to so much more of your childhood than you probably had of your mothers…that’s going to create a new kind of continuity.

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  11. alan church Says:

    “laying under a blanket”??
    LAYING!!?? COME ON. I’m sure you know better. or maybe not. so many people don’t these days.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, alan!

      I appreciate you catching that error. I do know the difference, but did make a mistake…that happens sometimes. 🙂 That’s more likely to be true when I am writing fiction, since I am thinking in the voices of the characters…and I think the grandfather here would have said “laying”, and that probably influenced me as I wrote it.

      I always appreciate it when readers take the time and make the effort to let me know about mistakes I make.

      However, I would also assume that the way you have expressed it (with all capitals, multiple punctuation marks, and a colloquial admonition like “come on”) appear intended to not just correct an error, but to make me feel bad about myself. You have succeeded.

      As a professional educator, I can tell you: making people feel bad about themselves is easy. Making them feel good about themselves is much harder, but in my experience, tends to lead to better results in the future. People remember and integrate events better when they associate them with good feelings than with bad ones.

      You may have intended the tone of your comment to be humorous? If so, “emoticons” can be useful. I’ve actually taught an eight-hour long class on e-mail, and one of the issues with text-only communication is that it lacks the facial expressions and other “body language” clues which appear in situations when the participants can see each other.

      Thank you again for taking the time to let me know. A misuse like that can be jarring to some people, and can take them out of the experience of the narrative. The same seems true to me of typographical errors, misspellings, accidentally repeated words, and so on. As I’ve mentioned before, I tend to highlight them as I read, and respectfully submit them to the publisher afterwards. It makes me feel good to think that it may improve future readers’ experience of the work, as you have done here.

  12. Aimee Says:

    I’ve been browsing through the archives, and I really enjoy this story! I have to agree with a couple of other posters, though, that I found it kind of scary 🙂 I’m only in my thirties, but there’s a divide between me and my brothers, who are in their mid-twenties. I showed them my Kindle, which they thought was cool, but they immediately tried to operate it as a touch screen!

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Aimee!

      I tell people that my now adult offpring tried to push a button on an ad for a remote control…when not yet 1-year old. 🙂

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