Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Book Shopping in Disguise

Several bloggers have established before in this space that there are numerous pressures on an author – keeping up their characters’ fashion forwardness, spicing up their love lives, etc. And there are also expectations put onto an author by his or her passionate readers, admirers and booksellers.

Well, I am about to add one more to your load.

One of the most enjoyable occupations of a bookseller is watching what books customers buy. And how much more interesting if that customer is an admired author. A few years ago I managed the petite and compact but very busy Ottawa airport bookshop. It had a steady stream of shoppers and browsers from 5:30 a.m. through to midnight, 365 days a year. We were ideally placed right between the airline checkins and the escalator to security for pre-boarding. What better place to be for the last-minute plane ride read than when the Amex is still in the hand after shelling out for an expensive trip to Toronto or Washington?

Ottawa travelers tend to be an eclectic and interesting bunch too. My staff and I started a spotting list that included Olympic athletes, Senators hockey players, actual Senators, ragged night owl musicians the morning after, assorted politicians, high tech geeks off to North Carolina to meet other high tech geeks, and a variety of authors the day after the-night-before gala or festival. And we booksellers waiting with bated breath to see what book each would buy.

The staff was all university students who were huge bibliophiles & quite territorial about their own subject sections of the shop. When Carol Shields wandered in one afternoon, Lisa, who stocked our Canadian Fiction, was too overwhelmed to speak to her, and just grinned while I asked Carol for an autograph for Lisa. Carol also did not disappoint in her book choices for her trip, with some excellent Canadian fiction – of course we were watching!

P.D. James (Lady James) resplendent in her tweeds wandered in one morning after an evening book event, and was lovely & low-key, and asked for recommendations for some take-home Canadian mysteries. We happily filled her Harrods bag for her trip home.
Very early one morning, a certain Maritime politician entered the store, browsed quite some time, until there were no other customers around, then hoping for anonymity, brought the ‘sexy’ fiction to the counter, and verified my suspicions by using his credit card proving his name. I silently told him, “Oh, I think you can do better than THAT!”

So, you see, even though you think that you are out in the world away from your computer and anonymous to the general public, your readers are watching you. Do you desperately want a mental vacation from the murderous intents of your latest murder mystery in-the-works? All you want is to schlep to the local independent bookseller & choose a bodice ripper with the most buff Fabio on the cover – RETHINK !! Is there a lovely photo of you on the back cover of your novels? Do you post an earnest pic of yourself on your website? Well, your readers are out there waiting to spot you. And to find out what great Canadian novel you are reading.

This might be an opportune time to consider adopting a disguise when purchasing your adult magazine, or a Harlequin. Is a large hat, oversized black sunglasses and leather gloves (no fingerprints!) too much to ask to spare the lofty opinions of your loyal fans & readers?

In London this week, there will be a veritable sea of very large hats and proper gloves, and the most perfect time to blend in wearing such a disguise. Plop your Philip Treacy on your head, grab the black D&G shades, and fill your bag with Fabio-covered paperbacks & the Secret Life of Wills & Kate Revealed (really?) and revel in breaking free.

But if you’re in London this week without a hat and buying some sketchy reading material, better pay cash.

Confess to me what guilty pleasure you have bought, and were you wearing a disguise (or should have been)?

Catherine Lee (Cathy) is a college textbook buyer in Ottawa, has been a bookseller and book buyer by trade for most of her life, and is a member of 2 book clubs. She became a book lover on her parents’ knees at story time & by flashlight under the bed sheets. One of her greatest pleasures is sharing great books with friends, of course while sipping wine.


  1. Love your blog Cathy!!! Well done!
    Val :)

  2. Love it, Cathy! I contemplate wearing a disguise when I buy Atwood.

  3. My guilty pleasures were Margaret Trudeau's exposes. Back then, we wanted to know and didn't want to know.....