Working at a bookstore, I have heard personal details of the lives of many strangers. Small details are unavoidable, because they are looking for a book on grieving, or how to handle an unfaithful spouse. Some customers, however, will pour out their heartaches, problems, battles.
On my very first day, there was a young woman looking for baby care books. Having two children myself, we got into a spirited discussion of the merits of various books, and I left her looking through a stack of them. The next time I passed by, she waved me over, and asked if I could help her find another book. She was looking for a book on mending relationships, since three scant months before the baby was due, her boyfriend had decided that he really didn’t want a commitment right now. I had some serious trouble not pointing out to her the book on how to get rid of *&$@%!%$#&@$$. I also got her some tissues, and a glass of water. Poor thing.
I had a man tell me the complete details of his battle with depression, and his hope that the book he was purchasing might finally help him win it.
On one particularly memorable occasion, I was concerned about a woman who seemed to be in a lot of pain. She waved me off, saying that it would pass… and then telling me that truthfully, she wished she was dead. This, as you can imagine, didn’t reassure, me, and I lingered, debating whether I should take further action. She then spoke curtly to me, telling me to go away, and she didn’t need anyone hovering, and making her feel self-conscious. I refrained from telling her that if she didn’t want people to worry, she shouldn’t tell them she wanted to die – obviously she was in great pain, and didn’t want pity, so I left her alone, wishing I could have helped somehow.
I also get to be the first to hear good news occasionally. Women buying books on pregnancy, who haven’t told anyone yet because it’s very early. Men looking for ideas on the best way to propose. A man who returned his books and do-it-yourself guides on divorce, because they had worked things out. One woman, in her mid-fifties, who looked like the stereotype of the prim spinster librarian, who was picking up a copy of the Kama Sutra for her new boyfriend.
I sometimes wonder why the impulse to share is there. Is it sometimes easier to talk to a stranger? Is it just a sympathetic ear at the right moment? Perhaps it’s just that with so many people coming through the store, one or two are bound to want to talk?
In any case, the people in the bookstore often have stories just as fascinating as the books themselves.