I Can't Remember the Title but the Cover is Blue: Sketches From the Other Side of the Bookshop Counter

I Can't Remember the Title but the Cover is Blue: Sketches From the Other Side of the Bookshop Counter

by Elias Greig


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As any retail or service worker will tell you, customers can be irrational, demanding, abusive, and brain-scramblingly, mind-bendingly strange. They can also be kind, thoughtful, funny, and full of pathos. Something about the often-fraught interaction between customer and worker, with the dividing line of the counter between them, loosens inhibitions, and has a kind of hot-house effect on eccentricity. In I Can't Remember the Title But the Cover is Blue, veteran bookseller Elias Greig collects the best, worst, and downright weirdest customer encounters from his years working as a Sydney bookseller. From ill-behaved children to nostalgic seniors and everything in between, this hilarious and unpredictable book is the perfect gift for anyone who's ever been on the wrong side of a counter.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781760529451
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publication date: 10/01/2019
Pages: 228
Sales rank: 763,541
Product dimensions: 5.75(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Elias Greig has worked as a shoe salesman, a bookseller, a casual tutor, and sessional lecturer at the University of Sydney. Elias's writing has appeared in Hermes, Contrappasso, the Conversation, and Overland.

Read an Excerpt


Saturday, 8.50 a.m.

Buff gym-goer with a gym bag over his shoulder, sucking liquid breakfast drink through a straw, taps on the door before opening time. I let him in.

Buff Suckler: Mate, I'm switching to the iPad. It's just better.

Me: ... Right. How can I help?

Buff Suckler: Do you do second-hand books? I've got piles of 'em – they're not in very good nick and they're probably not worth anything, but I'm looking for somewhere to dump 'em. I wouldn't want much for 'em. *pauses to slurp through straw* Would you be interested?

Me: ... Not really, no.

Buff Suckler:*narrows eyes; suckles* Why not?

Me: ... Well, for all the reasons you just said.

Buff Suckler: Fair enough. Do you have sex tips? *straw slurp*

Me:*blinks; buffers* ... Third row back on the left, in Sex and Relationships. I'll show you the section. *leaves counter and starts to walk to section*

Buff Suckler: Look, not to worry mate, I'll just get them on the iPad. *finishes drink, puts empty on counter, leaves*


Sunday, 11.25 a.m.

Freckly lady in a rope necklace marches up to counter, pushes up her sunglasses, looks furious.

Me:*cautiously* Morning – how can I help?

Frecklefury: Do you have a copy of The Secret River by Kate Grenville?

Me: We should do – let me check ... Yep, we do –

Frecklefury:*tight jawed* Good! I've got someone in mind for it.

Me:*fetches it from the shelf* Who are you giving it to?

Frecklefury:*with feeling* A Racist!

Me:*blinking* Oh! Awesome! Want me to gift wrap it?

Frecklefury: Would you? That'd be great.

Me:*wrapping* So ... how do you think this person will react to the book?

Frecklefury:*snarling* I don't give a shit! *pauses; narrows eyes* I hope the bitch cries.


Monday, 12.15 p.m.

Jolly apple-cheeked lady customer: I love Matthew Reilly. I know it's not clever – it's heaps of fun, but.

Me: Did you like his latest?

Jolly Apple-Cheek: Yeah, but it's not for teenagers, hey.

Me: Really? Too sexy?

Jolly Apple-Cheek: Yeah, it's like about young Bess – you know, young Elizabeth – and she goes for it.

Me:*enjoys this a lot* Oh?

Jolly Apple-Cheek: And there's ... Well, there's lots of, like, whores.

Me: Really? Whores?

Jolly Apple-Cheek:*blushes; lowers her voice conspiratorially* Yeah – you know – whores of the Early Times.


Monday, 10.05 a.m.

Older lady with a perm, a limp, and a big black handbag: Hello, I know you're a bookshop, but I'm desperate to find the Telstra store that used to be in the centre – do you know where it went?

Me:*reluctantly* I ... suppose I can check online for you if you like. *light googling* Says here there's one at Warringah Mall, so I think that's your best bet.

Old Perm:*incredulous* There isn't a closer one?

Me:*rigorous googling* No, that looks like the closest one –

Old Perm:*sharply* Are you sure?

Me:*evenly* No, but Google seems to be.

Old Perm: Thank you. *stays where she is*Me: ... Is there something else I can help you with?

Old Perm: Can you look up a restaurant? It's called the European Grill. I think it's in Newtown.

Me:*suppresses a sigh* Why not? *gentle googling* It's in Newtown, on King Street –

Old Perm:*interrupts* Would you mind checking Urbanspoon? My son is taking me there for dinner.

Me:*checks Urbanspoon* It gets very good reviews.

Old Perm:*cranes around to look at the screen* Can you print this page?

Me: No.

Old Perm: ...

Me: ... Would you like me to write down the address?

Old Perm: Please.


Saturday, 3.15 p.m.

Early Teen Customer (ETC): Do you have Some Faults in Their Stars?

Me: Do you mean The Fault in Our Stars?

ETC: Is that the one where she's got, like, cancer, but he loves her anyway?

Me: Yep, that's the one.

ETC:*eagerly* Yeah, do you have that one?

Me: We do! Did you want the regular cover, or the movie cover?

ETC: Um, the movie cover? Is that the one where you can see her cancer, like, coming out her nose?

Me: Yep.


Tuesday, 9.30 a.m.

Woman in pearl earrings and a purple tracksuit: Do you have a children's picture book about the Holocaust? I'm looking for something inspiring.

Me: ... No.

Pearl Tracksuit: Have you heard of anything like that? Could you get one in?


Sunday, 11 a.m.

Small girl in pink swimmers repeatedly throws hardcover Wind in the Willows on the floor while Listless Hipster Dad watches on.

Me:*wincing as book hits floor* Everything alright?

Listless Hipster Dad: Oh yeah ... Sorry man ... *looks blearily at daughter* Hey Lily – don't do that, hey?

Me:*wincing as book hits floor again* Ah, maybe you could take it off her ...?

Listless Hipster Dad:*wryly* Parenting is hard. She's three.

Me: I believe you. *winces as book hits floor again* Do you mind if I speak to her?

Listless Hipster Dad: Sure man! *thinks for a moment* Don't yell at her, but.

Me:*gently* Lily, if you throw that book one more time, I'm going to make your daddy pay for it –



Thursday, 10.30 a.m.

Punch-drunk mum and dreadful tennish son called Justin enter the store – Justin snivelling, punch-drunk mum clearly engaged in some kind of mindfulness practice to help with the constant horror of Justin. They head for the children's section. Dreadful Justin pulls a book roughly off the shelf, drops it on the floor, and opens it with his vile little sandalled foot.

Punch-Drunk Mum: Justin! This isn't the library! You can't just wreck things!


Sunday, 2 p.m.

Soberly dressed woman with bobbed blonde hair: Just this one, thanks.

Me: No worries – that's $32.99.

Sober Bob: Can I use payWave?

Me: Sure, just tap it on the side.

Sober Bob:*taps card; EFTPOS machine makes unhappy noise*

Me:*grimacing companionably* Sorry about that – our machine is pretty unfriendly –

Sober Bob: Oh, don't worry. This kind of thing happens all the time since I was struck by lightning.

Me: Wow! WOW! Really? That's fascinating!

Sober Bob:*flatly* Mm, when I was training as a nurse the ECG machines used to go haywire every time I entered the room.

Me: Extraordinary!

Sober Bob:*matter-of-factly* Yeah, there must be some residual charge.

Me: Wow! You have a dormant superpower!

Sober Bob:*ghost of a smile* Mm, well, it hasn't shown itself yet.

Me:*gathers himself* Well. You're my first-ever lightning-struck customer.

Sober Bob: Hm. We were struck as a group, my father and I, and some others – not all of us made it.

Me: Oh. *sombre pause* Well. One of my colleagues has the dubious honour of having been attacked by a shark –

Sober Bob:*quietly amused* Mm, that happened to me, too. I don't usually tell that to people, though – it seems ridiculous on top of the lightning.


Monday, 9.05 a.m.

Salt-and-pepper builder beard, trailed, at a safe distance, by mute apprentice: Mate, do you sell electrical extension leads?

Me: No. No, definitely not.

Builder Beard:*looks angrily from me to mute apprentice and back in search of conspiracy*

Me:*foolishly attempts to defuse tension over predictable lack of leads with limp joke* We might have a book on electrical extension leads ... ?

Builder Beard:*puts a paint-flecked finger in my face* There's no need to be smart, mate! *stalks out*

Mute Apprentice:*looks stricken; silently counts to ten; scurries after him*


Saturday, 10.45 a.m.

Woman who looks remarkably like a corella: Yehs.

Me:*blinks* Yes?

Corella Woman: Yehs. I need a book of nibbles for my grandnephew – he's got five of them but his grandmother wants him to have more.

Me:*translation software; memory palace* So the Aussie Nibbles early readers?

Corella Woman: Yehs.

Me:*reflexively* Yes. Ah, yes, we have them – do you know which five he's read?

Corella Woman: No. How many of them are there?

Me: How many Aussie Nibbles?

Corella Woman: Yehs.

Me: Heaps. Shall I show you where they are?

Corella Woman: Yehs. *pauses; thinks* But how will I know which ones he already has?

Me: I'm not sure. Could you get in touch with his grandmother?

Corella Woman: No. She won't know. Do you know?

Me: Do I know which five Aussie Nibbles your grand-nephew has read?

Corella Woman: Yehs.

Me: No.

Corella Woman: Oh.


Saturday, 2.30 p.m.

Brisk lady with a high blonde ponytail and a maddeningly fussy start-stop way of speaking: Hi. I'll take this. *drops luridly pink children's book on counter*

Me: Sure –

High Pony Start-Stop: Actually. It's a gift. Would you mind wrapping it for me?

Me: No worries –

High Pony Start-Stop: Actually. Would you mind? I've got a few more. I didn't buy them here. Could you wrap them up with it? *drops two more pinky-purple books on counter; winces a smile*

Me:*cheerfully* Sure –

High Pony Start-Stop: What colours do you have?

Me: In the paper? We've got a few ... *ducks behind counter to bring out rolls of gift wrap*

High Pony Start-Stop:*leans over counter* Do you have pink?

Me:*head in paper draw* Yep. *surfaces* It looks like this.

High Pony Start-Stop:*sharply* And? What else?

Me: Green, orange, and a sort of silvery black –

High Pony Start-Stop: Actually. Would you mind doing all three in different colours? One pink, one green, and one black?

Me:*bland smile* Sure –

High Pony Start-Stop: And then just wrap one ribbon around all three?

Me: Sure –

High Pony Start-Stop: What kind of ribbon do you have?

Me: ... We've got a few different colours ...

High Pony Start-Stop:*raises eyebrows* Can I see them?

Me: Sure – any particular colour you're after?

High Pony Start-Stop:*incredulously* Um ...? I won't know until I see them?

Me: Right. *manages not to grind teeth* Well ... *makes a small pile of different ribbons on counter*

High Pony Start-Stop: Wow. You've got heaps.

Me: We do. So – *heartily* which one?

High Pony Start-Stop: Oh. God. I'm not sure now. Pick one for me.

Me: ... Ah – what about this one? *holds up stripy ribbon*

High Pony Start-Stop:*sharply* Yep. Looks good.

Me:*begins to wrap presents*

High Pony Start-Stop: Actually.

Me:*wide-eyed, edging towards hysteria* The colour no good?

High Pony Start-Stop: No. The colour's fine. But can you do me a gift receipt, just in case they need to return it? It's a gift, so ...?

Me: Of course – one second. *writes gift receipt, slips inside front cover, and recommences wrapping*

High Pony Start-Stop: ... Actually.

Me:*alarmed, wide-eyed, quiet breath out, still wrapping* Was there anything else ... ?

High Pony Start-Stop:*writhes closed lips* Nope. I can't think of anything else to ask you for. *ghostly smile*

Me:*still wrapping; manages a kindly smile* Getting your money's worth, eh?

High Pony Start-Stop:*with passion* Oh, absolutely! The minimum wage in this country is ridiculous. It's completely over the top!

Me: Oh. *measures out ribbon; cuts* Well. *evens and loops ribbon* I hope I'm justifying my wage.

High Pony Start-Stop:*steely smile, pointed eye contact* We'll see in a minute.

Me:*ties ribbon in a bow, smooths, cuts rough edges* There we go – how's that?

High Pony Start-Stop: Perfect. Looks great.

Me: Thanks. So, that's $12.95

High Pony Start-Stop:*sharply* Is it? How much was the wrapping?

Me: The wrapping was free.

High Pony Start-Stop:*Huskily, and with deep satisfaction* Good.


Monday, 4.15 p.m.

Hairless man with very prominent teeth and a pronounced sibilance in his speech: Exsscuse me – do you have Bram Sstoker'ss Dracula in the Oxford World'ss Classsicss edition?

Me:*delighted* Yes!


Sunday, 3.20 p.m.

Gaggle of unaccompanied children enter store and swarm into the children's section. One small boy, probably two or three years old, strains for a large animal encyclopedia just out of reach until his sister (four or five) hands it down to him. He hefts it, throws it flat on the carpet and begins to jump on it. Swooping in to rescue the book, I reel back, eyes watering from the ripe, rich aroma wafting from the jumping child.

Me:*to sister* Is this little guy your brother?

Sister: Yes.

Me:*blinking through the stench* I think you better take him to find your parents.

Sister: Why?

Me: I think he's filled his nappy.

Sister:*surprisingly hearty snigger* He's not wearing a nappy!


Monday, 5 p.m.

Sporty older lady customer in gym shoes, lycra, and a pink hoodie: Aw, hi! *scrunches up face, snaps fingers* Aw! What was it? I just saw it ...

Me:*encouraging midwife smile* Was it a book? What kind of book?

Pink Hoodie: Yeah – yeah. A crime book – can't remember the name ...

Me: A new book? Maybe by a foreign author?

Pink Hoodie: YES! A foreign author ... Aaaawww, what was it?

Me: Jo Nesbo? Henning Mankell? Andrea Camilleri? Stieg Larsson?

Pink Hoodie: You know, I just can't remember. Isn't that terrible? I just saw it ...

Me: What did the cover look like? Was it a new release? Or something you've been after for a while?

Pink Hoodie: I think it was a bit white with some black and red writing. God, I only just saw it!

Me: Where did you see it?

Pink Hoodie: Well, I saw it in the paper ... and in town, and in a bigger shop, I think it was Myer? You've definitely got it.

Me: We might do, yeah. Is it [new title]? Or [slightly older title]?

Pink Hoodie: No, no, none of those.

Me: What about [etc]?

Pink Hoodie: Nup.

Me:*apologetically* I'm not sure ... with a bit more info, I'm sure we can track it down, but I'm not sure we've got it.

Pink Hoodie:*impatiently* Look, I know you've got it.

Me:*bemused* How do you know?

Pink Hoodie: Because it's in your window! *nasal sigh*

Me: ...

Pink Hoodie: ...

Me: ...

Pink Hoodie: Can you get it?

Me: ... Yes.


Sunday, 1.15 p.m.

European man in orange jeans: Hhello, I bhought a bhook here rhecently, it was call Zhe'ro Wauhn T-hoo, by Pehter Zhiel – hit's habout starrt-hup bisnehs. Do you have a nohther wauhn?

Me:*vigorous computer searching* Right ... Is it Zero to One, by Peter Thiel?

Orange Jeans: Yhes, ehxacktly!

Me: We should have it – it's in the Business and Finance section. *walks to section, followed eagerly by Orange Jeans* So it should be here, give me a second. *squats on heels, scans bottom shelf*

Orange Jeans:*stands uncomfortably close; orange crotch eclipses half my vision* Khan you see hit?

Me:*eyes front, orange crotch blazing in peripheral vision* It should be here – just, ah, give me a minute –

Orange Jeans: Zher! Zher it is! *crowds in further; points with toe*

Me:*closes one eye against crotch glare, relieved* Well spotted –

Orange Jeans: Yhou haf t-hoo poosh for what yhou whant – it's what zhe bhook teaches! *minute pelvic thrust*

Me:*recoils; stands up very quickly*


Excerpted from "I Can't Remember the Title but the Cover is Blue"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Elias Greig.
Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1 Saturday, 8.50 a.m.,
2 Sunday, 11.25 a.m.,
3 Monday, 12.15 p.m.,
4 Monday, 10.05 a.m.,
5 Saturday, 3.15 p.m.,
6 Tuesday, 9.30 a.m.,
7 Sunday, 11 a.m.,
8 Thursday, 10.30 a.m.,
9 Sunday, 2 p.m.,
10 Monday, 9.05 a.m.,
11 Saturday, 10.45 a.m.,
12 Saturday, 2.30 p.m.,
13 Monday, 4.15 p.m.,
14 Sunday, 3.20 p.m.,
15 Monday, 5 p.m.,
16 Sunday, 1.15 p.m.,
17 Saturday, 11 a.m.,
18 Monday, 2.50 p.m.,
19 Saturday, 12.50 p.m.,
20 Sunday, 3.30 p.m.,
21 Sunday, 10.05 a.m.,
22 Sunday, 11.40 a.m.,
23 Saturday, 10.15 a.m.,
24 Tuesday, 2.20 p.m.,
25 Monday, 1.20 p.m.,
26 Wednesday, 1.50 p.m.,
27 Saturday, 9.25 a.m.,
28 Tuesday, 11 a.m.,
29 Saturday, 10.20 a.m.,
30 Monday, 3 p.m.,
31 Monday, 5 p.m.,
32 Sunday, 1 p.m.,
33 Monday, 2.05 p.m.,
34 Friday, 12.45 p.m.,
35 Wednesday, 4.15 p.m.,
36 Saturday, 10.30 a.m.,
37 Monday, 11.50 a.m.,
38 Sunday, 1.05 p.m.,
39 Saturday, 12.15 p.m.,
40 Sunday, 10.15 a.m.,
41 Tuesday, 11.55 a.m.,
42 Saturday, 10 a.m.,
43 Sunday, 10.15 a.m.,
44 Tuesday, 3.15 p.m.,
45 Saturday, 4.40 p.m.,
46 Sunday, 11 a.m.,
47 Friday, 10.30 a.m.,
48 Sunday, 2.45 p.m.,
49 Sunday, 11.45 a.m.,
50 Wednesday, 3 p.m.,
51 Monday, 12.15 p.m.,
53 Sunday, 10.20 a.m.,
54 Sunday, 10.40 a.m.,
55 Monday, 4.05 p.m.,
56 Saturday, 2.15 p.m.,
57 Tuesday, 2.30 p.m.,
58 Saturday, 11 a.m.,
59 Sunday, 3.35 p.m.,
60 Sunday, 2.45 p.m.,
61 Monday, 5.20 p.m.,
62 Sunday, 1.30 p.m.,
63 Thursday, 5 p.m.,
64 Tuesday, 12.20 p.m.,
65 Sunday, 10.05 a.m.,
66 Saturday, 9 a.m.,
67 Wednesday, 1.15 p.m.,
68 Sunday, 3.25 p.m.,
69 Saturday, 9.30 a.m.,
70 Monday, 11.40 a.m.,
71 Friday, 3 p.m.,
72 Saturday, 10 a.m.,
73 Monday, 4.30 p.m.,
74 Wednesday, 2.15 p.m.,
75 Sunday, 11.15 a.m.,
76 Sunday, 12.05 p.m.,
77 Saturday, 10.20 a.m.,
78 Sunday, 10.15 a.m.,
79 Monday, 5.25 p.m.,
80 Saturday, 12.30 p.m.,
81 Saturday, 10.05 a.m.,
82 Sunday, 12.10 p.m.,
83 Vectors,
84 Tuesday, 9.30 a.m.,
85 Sunday, 10.30 a.m.,
86 Saturday, 11.25 a.m.,
87 Saturday, 9.15 a.m.,
88 Sunday, 3.10 p.m.,
89 Saturday, 10.20 a.m.,
90 Friday, 2.25 p.m.,
91 Saturday, 11.45 a.m.,
92 Sunday, 10.05 a.m.,
93 Wednesday, 12 p.m.,
94 Sunday, 10.50 a.m.,
95 Monday, 4.55 p.m.,
96 Sunday, 2 p.m.,
97 Sunday, 10.15 a.m.,
98 Thursday, 3.40 p.m.,
99 Monday, 5.20 p.m.,
100 Sunday, 11 a.m.,
101 Saturday, 10.30 a.m.,
102 Christmas Eve, 8.45 a.m.,
103 Saturday, 3.30 p.m.,
104 Sunday, 1.25 p.m.,
105 Saturday, 9.50 a.m.,
106 Sunday, 10.45 a.m.,
107 Sunday, 3.40 p.m.,
108 Monday, 2.30 p.m.,
109 Sunday, 4.55 p.m.,
110 Sunday, 2.20 p.m.,
111 Sunday, 3.55 p.m.,

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