I read it in a letter to the editor of what used to be called a “journal of opinion” — a letter concerning an article about chain bookstores.
The writer told of a man who entered such a bookstore in Texas and requested a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The clerk pointed the customer to the section marked “ARCHITECTURE.”
One might be disinclined to believe that anecdote — unless, of course, one has had a similar bookstore experience.
Several years ago, a new bookstore opened up the road a piece, and because its advertising promised all sorts of savings, I decided to stop in the next time I was nearby.
I was disappointed. The place was chock full of mass-market paperbacks and little else. The savings seemed to consist of 10 percent off the retail price of selected paperback titles.
There was a lady of middle years and some girth seated by the cash register. She and I were the only two people in the store.
After looking around for a bit, I asked the woman if she were the manager. She said she was. I suggested that when she had a moment, she might go over to the “NATURE” section, look between Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America and Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds of Western North America, and move those six copies of The Maltese Falcon over to the “MYSTERY” section.
She stared at me for a moment. Then she asked, “Why?”
“Because it’s a mystery novel, not a bird book.”
“How do you know?” she asked.
“Well, I read it,” I replied.
She gave me a hard look and said, “You’re supposed to buy ‘em, not stand there and read ‘em.”
I departed under her angry glare. Driving by a couple of weeks later, I noticed that the bookstore had closed. Perhaps the proprietor had decided to sell cabbages, a venture with many advantages; e.g., you don’t have to know the alphabet; and you won’t be troubled by too much variation in your merchandise.
Were that bookstore open these days, I’d be sorely tempted to go in and ask where I could find a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.