Patrick Gibson's Reviews > The Wordy Shipmates

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell
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's review
Oct 08, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: truth_sort-of, history
Read in November, 2009

We don’t have a problem yet Sarah. But I am working on one. I am finding myself reading entire novels in-between your chapters. We’re still lovers—but I need to let you know I am seeing other people. I hope the passion resurrects but your expedition into the realm of Puritanism is leaving me limp in the brain. I won’t give up. Yet.

Old stuff:

Sarah was on The Daily Show again the other night hawking the arrival of her latest in paperback. And as Jon pointed out—it’s the same book she promoted on the show eight months ago, only lighter. I love it when she is on only because she is not an awkward guest and clearly gets the humor. She’s one of the few to give it right back when snarkasm comes fluttering her way.

I remember the comments when the book first came out. “It’s a difficult read.” Stewart said he had a hard time getting through it. I skimmed some of the Goodreads comments and that seems to be the consensus. I guess that is why I waited for the paperback to come out.

Oh well. Sarah can do no wrong. How thorny can it be? I’ll let you know.
This is not a review.

I just bought the book a couple hours ago—geez—but I need to vent about the bookstore.

I don’t have a neighborhood bookstore. There are two—Books a Million and B&N—each approximately fifteen miles from home. Not a big deal, but still, I have to make the drive.

BaM is closer by half a mile so I went there first. I just wanted to pick up Sarahs book and leave. Now, I have had problems with this store since day one. It is much larger than the B&N so I should be happier but the friggin place is laid out like a gorgon’s den. Nothing is where it should be, fiction is listed buy author and then mysteriously around M or N switches to Alpha by Title. What? I’m serious—there are no more authors past P? The poetry section is two shelves. The longest aisle dead ends. I asked a staff person what the building was before a bookstore. When told it was built for BaM I then questioned why the longest aisle in the store has no outlet—only to be met with a laugh and “Yah, we all wonder about that.”

I checked the ‘new releases’ rack in the front hoping Sarah would be there. Nope. I was fortunate a while ago to have found the one shelf containing essays at the end of the massive Science Fiction section so I knew where to look next. Nah, there was one copy of ‘Assassination Vacation’ and nothing else.

BaM does not have a computer for the unworthy so I couldn’t look up the title and hopefully procure a map to the hidden treasure. No, instead I had to slink over to the Customer Service Desk and wait. I am not sure if all the Books a Million go out of their way to hire the least qualified and highest rated staff on the lazy scale, but this particular store should be a universal case study for those wishing to create the ultimate ‘f*ck you’ atmosphere. On the We Could Give a Rats Ass scale, they are a 10.

One of the Collect a Paycheck for Doing Nothing team members was fondling books on the table marked ‘This is All the Shit We Can’t Sell.’ We made eye contact. By this point I was leaning on the Customer Service Desk contemplating taking a nap. I literally put my elbows on the counter, placed me head in my hands and closed my eyes when the languid employee opted to continue molesting one of the fifty copies of ‘Hitler’s Cookbook’ instead of walking over to the desk.
I thought about leaving—then thought, no, I want to see how long this will take.

Not long actually, but not satisfying either.

An assistant-manager (why always an assistant, are there really no managers in these places?) came flying up to the counter, and almost as fast, the instantly-sangfroid staff member flew to her side. Now I had two people wondering if I needed help.

No no, I come in here just to stand at the desk. It’s my favorite thing to do. That, and snack on the clumps from the kitty litter box.

With mutant superspeed the assistant manager vanished and I was left with my X-men reject, whom I could tell really knew his way around the computer.

My request was simple—just tell me where ‘Wordy Shipmates’ is located in the store. Don’t worry, you don’t have to take me there—just POINT—I’ll find it eventually.

I am accent free and enunciate my words clearly. I held my breath for a
moment when told no ‘Worthy Shipmates’ appeared on the magic BaM search engine. ‘Wordy.’ I spelled it. Ok that’s an easy mistake. But the guy with the magic terminal began to frown and shake his head. For dramatic effect he pretended to be searching other programs. I finally said “what?”

Of course I knew the next words out of his mouth. “We don’t have it in stock but we can order it for you. It should be here in two to three weeks.”

I have given up questioning bookstore minions about this long procurement time when I know I can go home, order on line, have the book delivered to my house in forty-eight hours—and it will be cheaper. I asked, “Why don’t you just order it from Amazon for me and I’ll pick it up at the store in a couple days?” “Why do you even bother with your own warehouse which is obviously located on the outskirts of Tralfalmadore?”

I know, I know . . . we have all had these little go-rounds, and there is nothing to be done about them. But the next few moments at the desk moved my experience into the realm of Twilight Zone. While still staring at the computer screen, the clerk stated with solid conviction “We will have a truck arriving tomorrow!” Damn, dude, you sound like you just found the cure for limp-dick syndrome.
My obvious reply, “Oh, will there be a copy of ‘WorDY Shipmates’ on board?”
“Then why are you telling me this?”

Perhaps he was just overjoyed with the prospects of an imminent delivery—no matter the content. I will probably not show up that.
I drove over to Barnes and Ignoble. Sarah’s tome was on the new release rack by the front door. It took two minutes to grab it and go.
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message 1: by Cameron (new)

Cameron I would bet the long dead-end aisle is designed to force customers to walk by the merchandise twice, in the hope that a second browsing might improve the chances of the customer picking something up. Of course, that probably doesn't make the store any more endearing to you...

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