I've been at this thing for a while now. In fact, I think that I've been indoctrinated into this almost as pervasively as "say please and thank you" and "cover your mouth when you sneeze". On the various trips that my family went on when I was growing up, I can remember many times when we'd be walking down the street in a new city, and we'd stop in a bookstore. Perhaps more telling - I don't recall walking past a bookstore in these situations.
So, a few momths ago, I was ambling through one of my local bookstores. (I'm afraid to say this wasn't a locally owned bookstore - it was an instance of a big chain. You'd know the chain if I mentioned it.) Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a 3-volume set of The Book of 1001 Nights. You know, the Arabian Nights mythos. I've got a collection of Grimm's fairy tales, and when I was growing up, I had a volume of Andersen's fairy tales, so an Arabian Nights collection would find a welcome home on my bookshelves. Well, I'd find space for them, perhaps displacing stuff that could get relegated to less prestigious shelves.
I casually surveyed the volumes and did not purchase them at that particular moment. Perhaps the $20 sticker price per volume was enough to cool my enthusiasm.
Later times, as I ambled between these same shelves, I noticed that they only had volumes 2 and 3 of the set. Ah, more excuse to delay my purchase. I'll just wait until they have all three, and I'll snap them all up at once.
Just this past weekend, I was again in the same bookstore, and I found myself disoriented. Against my best intentions, I found myself in young adult fiction. Yikes! The bookstore was reorganizing its shelves. Now I was in toddler lit. Help! I'm just looking for some Arabian Nights! I fled the bookstore with no books in hand, but most of my sanity with me.
After some recuperation, I went back today, and managed to find a helpful sales associate. "I'm looking for a 3 volume set of the Arabian Nights, I think it used to be on that shelf over there before the reorganization." "Oh, yes. Those are now downstairs, to the left of the cafe. That's where mythology is now." Ok, fine. Perhaps even better would be to walk me to the shelf in question, but I can probably find my way to the cafe, and figure out where left is from that.
And, in fact, by just walking around the perimeter of the cafe area, I was able to find the mythology shelf. Not far from the vegetarian section and the business section. Of course. And there was a pile of books that matched my memory. Volume 3. Volume 3. Volume 3. Volume 3. I sense a problem. Volume 3. Hm.
So, I selected one of the many instances of Volume 3, and made my way up to customer assistance. "Hi, I'd like Volumes 1 and 2." "Does it have to be of that edition?" "Sure, this one's pretty." "Hm."
The customer assistant went through many contortions of copying ISBNs from computer screen to paper, walking 10 feet to another computer screen, copying ISBNs back from paper to computer screen, and back again. Lather, rinse, repeat. I love it when databases don't talk to each other. Otherwise, Skynet gets us.
Seems that the computer believes that the store has multiple copies of each volume, but our best theory is that each of the volumes that the computer believes are 1 or 2 are actually mislogged. The computer tells us that maybe there are some copies of volume 2 that arrived in the store today. So the assistant trundles off to the back room to see if anything has bouyed to the top of the incoming bookflow. Nope, nothing readily apparent there. Hm, there's a place in Federal Way (what is that? 30 miles away? 40?) that claims to have a copy of volume 1. They'll ship it to me free of charge, if I don't mind paying for the book over the phone. Yeah, that sounds OK. Do they maybe have volume 2 as well? Yeah, they might. As this is all going down, Volume 2 turns up at the desk I'm standing at. The manager (above the supervisor, above the assistant) has tracked down a copy that was going to go on display. Or something. And then the manager went off to try to locate a volume 1, but was never seen again.
So, maybe volume 1 is out of print (already? this edition is has a 2007 copyright date). Maybe they've got a crazy inventory management system that's entirely out of communication with their customer-driven "help me find a book" kiosks. Maybe this book that I ordered from the Federal Way store is actually going to show up on my doorstep in the next few days.
And hey, maybe I'll enjoy reading some fables.