"Can I help you?" Slightly tall, young, shaven-head gentleman.
"Yeah, I need help finding a book."
That's why I'm here. "Sure, what do you need?"
"You know that movie Requiem for a Dream? I'm looking for something really intense like that."
"Hmm." I walk to the computer, type for a bit. "Requiem for a Dream was a book first. By..." I think. "Shelby. No, Selby. Hubert Selby." Typing some more: "selby requiem" into the search bar. "We may have some more of his books." I know he also wrote Last Exit to Brooklyn and at least one or two others, but I haven't read them.
And of course, all we have in the system is Requiem for a Dream, which is order-only. Shit.
"Nothing in stock. Let me think..." I continue, trying to help the customer.
"I just read How I Paid for College, y'know, something like that or Requiem for a Dream. Have you read it?"
Nope. Looks interesting, though. "Not yet. Hmm. So what exactly is it you're looking for?"
"Just a kind of weird, intense book. I've tried Chuck Palahniuk (he mispronounces it "palaniak"), but I can't really get into him."
Now he's piqued my interest. "Which Palahniuk have you read?" (It's paul-un-ook, by the way.)
Can't remember the title, the one wth the con artist..."
"I haven't read that one, but I've heard that one isn't his best." I'm motioning him to follow me over to the P's in fiction. "Other than Fight Club, I think Lullaby is really good, and Haunted has some really good bits, although it doesn't really cohere very well."
"Yeah. Lullaby's kinda like Palahniuk with a horror novel. And Survivor is really messed up, told in reverse order sort of, and involves a plane hijacking."
The customer nods, looking at the books I've been handing him.
"Let's see, what else can I recommend..." I'm getting into it now. "I read a bunch of messed-up stuff, this one over here..." Walking over there. "...Perfume, is about this eighteenth century serial killer who makes women into perfume. Only it's not really about that at all -- it's about the most misanthropic book I've ever seen." Pause. "If you're looking for something more humorous, you could go for some of the works of Elmore Leonard. He wrote the book that eventually became Jackie Brown, as well as Get Shorty and Out of Sight." I pause. "To be fair, I haven't read those particular books, but I've read a couple of his other books, and he does these kinds of low-rent criminal capers really well."
I'm still wandering a bit, looking for good books to recommend, when we pass by the "Our Favorite Trade Paperbacks" table, which is really a, "This Company Has Lots of Copies of these Trade Paperbacks" table. He asks, "Are the books on this table pretty good?"
"Generally, yeah, from what I've read." I'm glancing over the titles, noting that I actually have read a fair number of them. "Running with Scissors is pretty messed up. It's the story of the childhood of this guy whose mom and dad were both messed-up alcoholics -- she takes him to live with this psychiatrist, and he's even more messed up. He tells the stories of this horrible childhood, but he does it in a really low-key, matter-of-fact kind of way. Like, he's repeatedly raped by this guy, but he's more like," and here my voice drops to practically a whisper -- thankfully no customers were around, "'...my boyfriend raped me again. I didn't like it much. His cock tastes bad.'" (Oh Holy Jesus, I just said the word "cock" to a customer! He's taking it in stride, though, so I press on.) "It's messed up, and really funny at times."
The guy's laughing. "Sounds interesting."
Then my eyes light on the book I should have recommended from the get-go. I walk the guy back over to the fiction, in the L's I pick up a copy of Darkly Dreaming Dexter with Michael C. Hall on the cover. "This is the story of this serial killer who kills other serial killers. But it's really amazingly darkly funny, and the sequel is even funnier. They made it into a series on Showtime, but the book is tighter and funnier."
"Yeah, I think I saw that advertised a while ago."
"Check it out -- it's really good." A pause. Should I go for it? Why the hell not? "But if you're looking for something really intense and weird, check out the most recent novel by Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day. It's over a thousand pages of really dense text, took me over six weeks just for an introductory read, but it's filled with bizarre stuff."
"I don't know if I have the patience for that. If I can't read a book in a week or so, I get restless."
"I know the feeling. But this one... well, let me put it like this. There's this bit where there is this intelligent dog, 'trained in the French arts', as it were. And this guy gets the dog alone in a room and decides to, hmm, take advantage of the situation. And just as he's getting ready to do the dirty deed, the dog bites him you-know-where."
His eyebrows shoot up. "Wow."
"Even better, it takes place on page 666 of the novel. Let me show you." I open it up to the page and let him glance through. "It's filled with this kind of stuff."
He holds the book under his arm, along with two or three others, including the first Dexter book. "I've got to get back to the customer service counter, but I've got one more for you. One of my all-time favorite books. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson. It's this parallel narrative that takes place partly in World War II, and partly in a present-day (well, late nineties) software company. And it's a really cool book, if you're a geek like me, which I'm guessing you are."
"So anyway, take a couple of books, sit down and see if there's anything you're interested in. That's all I can think of off the top of my head."
"Thanks a lot, man. Lots of good books here to check out."
"No problem. Let me know if you need anything else."
Yeah, sometimes the night is good to me.
(And if you think I'm only including this because it gives me a chance to talk about a bunch of cool books that I wanted to mention, you may be right. But all of this happened, more or less.)