(Eleanor Davis)

Susan Coll works at Politics & Prose Bookstore and would like to emphasize that this essay should be shelved under fiction. Her novel, “The Stager,” will be published in July.

‘Good morning, how can I help you?”

“I’m looking for a book.”

“Great. What book?”

“I think it’s about a bird. It might be called ‘The Canary.’ ”

“There’s ‘The Canary Handbook.’ It’s not in stock, but I could order it for you.”

“No, that’s not it. Maybe it wasn’t a canary. I know: It was about something that flies. It could have been a parrot.”

“Sure, lots of parrot books out there. There was the one about Alex, the African grey parrot. It’s the true story of . . . ”

“No, this is more of a made-up story. It’s for my granddaughter.”

“Sounds like you want to try the children’s department, right down those stairs.”

“How can I help you?”

“I’m looking for a book.”

“Would you happen to have the title?”

“It’s a long shot, but I was in my car about a month ago and heard an author on the radio. Sounded really interesting.”

“Fiction? Nonfiction?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Anything about it you can remember?”

“It was raining.”

“About the book, please.”

“I think it was about a president.”

“That’s very helpful! A biography of a president?”


“Kennedy? We just had the 50th anniversary of his assassination. ”

“It could’ve been Kennedy, maybe.”

“Follow me. We have a whole table of Kennedy books: ‘The Letters of John F. Kennedy,’ ‘End of Days,’ ‘If Kennedy Lived.’ I’ll help the next customer while you look.”

“Hey, anyone: Could I get some assistance at the information desk?”

“Can I help you?”

“Is this confidential?”

“I think so, unless you tell me you committed a crime.”

“If I committed a crime, why would I tell you?”

“I don’t know. It’s been a long day.”

“It’s only 11 a.m.”

“Feels like noon.”

“I’m looking for a gift for my son. He is 45.”

“Is that the confidential part?”

“No. See, he thinks he’s very smart, but he’s not really as smart as he thinks he is. I want to buy him something that will make him think I think he’s smart, even though he knows that I know he’s not.”

“Okay. Why don’t we go with something neutral, like this World War II trilogy. It comes in a nice box set.”

“I’m not sure he’ll understand that.”

“Right. How about a cookbook?”

“He doesn’t cook.”

“Then try interior design, architecture, poetry, I don’t know. For the love of God, can I get some help over here?”


“Do you sell postage stamps?”

“No. We are a bookstore.”

“I just thought that since you sell cards . . . ”

“Try the post office.”

“Do you know where there’s a post office around here?”

“Sorry, no.”

“Would you mind Googling it for me?”

“Sure, but there’s a long line here, so perhaps you could come back in a few minutes.”

“Hi, there, it’s me again! The children’s department sent me back. They said to tell you that next time you should ask how old someone’s granddaughter is before sending her downstairs.”

“Is that what they said? Well you can tell them . . . ”

“I wasn’t planning to go back down. I called my granddaughter and she wasn’t home, but her roommate said it might not have been birds. Maybe it was butterflies. It was definitely something that flies.”

“Oh, butterflies! I’ll bet you want the new Barbara Kingsolver book — here. Go sit in that chair in the corner and read it for a while.”

“It’s not for me.”

“Hi, I just Googled it on my iPhone and I see there’s a post office about a mile from here, but I’m wondering, it looks like it’s uphill. Do you think I should walk or take the bus?”

“It might rain, but really I can’t make that decision for you.”

“Oh, hi, how did you make out with the Kennedy books?”

“I’m thinking it might have been Lincoln.”

“Sure, easy to confuse. Here, let me show you a few recent titles: There’s ‘Lincoln in the World,’ ‘Rise to Greatness’ . . . ”

“Hey, you were right about the rain. It started the minute I stepped out. Do you sell umbrellas?”

“You might try CVS.”

“Barnes & Noble has umbrellas.”

“Sorry, I don’t mean to eavesdrop, but Barnes & Noble closed. It’s a Nike store now.”

“CVS has stamps.”

“CVS has stamps and umbrellas.”

“Excellent, why don’t you all go there while I help the next customer.”


“Hi! And what might you be looking for?”

“I’m looking for a book.”

“You’re in luck; we are a bookstore.”

“Um, yes.”

“And next you’re going to tell me it’s about a bird.”

“Actually, yes. It’s called ‘The Goldfinch,’ by Donna Tartt.”

“Hallelujah! It’s right here.”

“That goldfinch book looks like it might be good. Do you think my son would like that?”

“He might. It’s thick, so it will make him think you think he’s smart.”

“But it’s about art. He’s not really . . . ”

“Take it, I insist! And ma’am — yes, you — buy that goldfinch book for your granddaughter. There’s a bird in the title. She’ll like it. Everyone likes it, even Michiko likes it.”


“I don’t think it was Lincoln, either, and yet — something about it makes me think presidents.”

“Could it be that the author’s name was Lincoln?”


“Lincoln Paine, perchance? ‘The Sea and Civilization’? I just happen to have it right here. Take a look.”

“This is it! You are a genius. Thank you!”

“You are so welcome. This makes me remember what I love about this job. But actually, you want to bring the book over there — the registers are now in the front of the store.”

“No, no, I’m just giving it back to you. I’ll get it later, online.”

“Really? Why would you do that?”

“I just signed up for Amazon Prime. Free shipping. Really great. Even started buying my groceries there. Actually, you could get your stamps and umbrellas, too.”

“I hear they are going to start delivering with drones soon.”

“No way.”

“Wait! Don’t drones fly? Maybe that’s what my granddaughter is looking for? Do you have a book on drones?”

“Help? Anyone?”

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