Over in the UK, Jen Campbell has been collecting Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops. All of us bookshop workers have our stories about customer oddities. This week though, I had a great question from a customer. I really enjoyed talking with him and figuring out what he was looking for. He asked me for a story book by a famous author from Canada. I was a bit mystified. He wasn’t sure that famous was the word he was looking for — English was a bit of a struggle for him. Famous was correct — he explained that he wanted a book by a famous Canadian author, better yet from Toronto, but he didn’t know who they were. “Like Shakespeare,” he said. “Ah,” I said. “Well, I can tell you who I think is like Shakespeare but not everyone will agree.” This seemed fine.
Off we went to the only Margaret Atwood book in the store. Remember, I work in a theological bookshop. Literature is not our speciality. We do stock The Year of the Flood, though, mostly because some Old Testament instructors (myself included) have used it in courses. I assured the young man that the book was indeed a story, and not too difficult. He told me he found Wuthering Heights difficult when he read it in university in Japan. I told him I hadn’t read WH as I don’t find it appealing. (English majors may now start wailing and bemoaning my education.)
I asked him why he was looking for this book, was it to help him with studying English? No, it was to help him to get to know about Canada and Toronto. “Hmm.” I said. “This book is about the future, and may not be what you are looking for.” I gave him a bit of paper with Margaret Atwood Cat’s Eye and Michael Ondaatje In the Skin of a Lion written on it. He did buy The Year of the Flood as I sent him off in search of other famous Canadian authors who write about Toronto. I hope he enjoys it. And the others too, if he finds them.
Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to think which other Canadian author is most like Shakespeare. If not Atwood, who? Do tell me what you think.