I went to Books-A-Million a couple of days ago to exchange a book that I bought for my wife Claire. I usually don’t go to this bookstore, but it’s right across from Bruegger’s Bagels and early every Saturday morning I buy bagels for the family for the week. And Books-A-Million opens early.
The reason I don’t normally go there is because it has such a dumb name. Who came up with Books-A-Million? It makes very little sense. I get the books part. They sell books. But the “A-Million” part? Does it mean they have a lot of books? Or does it mean that their books are really expensive? Either way, why not call it Books-A-Billion? At least it’s an alliteration.
They really should have a name that highlights what makes them different from other book stores. Like “Books Open Early.” Or “Open Books.” "Open Books" has a nice double meaning. People have to open books to read them, an open book test in high school is the easiest, and being an open book just sounds honest. (Actually, that's a triple meaning. Which makes it even better.)
Plus the “Open” part of "Open Books" sign would only be illuminated when they're open. So when you drive through their parking lot, you wouldn’t have to get out of your car to check to see if they were closed. When their open light is on, they’re open. If not, just keep driving.
So last Saturday morning, I walked up to the register at Books-A-Million and said to a friendly man in his late 60’s, “I bought the wrong book for my wife. She already has this one. Could I exchange it or get a refund?” He said, “Of course. I’ll keep it here and you can look around and see what you might like.” I said thanks and went over to the humor section. I browsed for a while and then decided to buy Brain Droppings by George Carlin.
When I went back to the register there was a young guy working behind the counter with the older man who had Claire's book. The older man saw me and said to the younger guy, “Would you take care of him? He bought the wrong wife.” He caught himself, but before he could say anything, I said, “Wow, you can exchange wives here? That’s good to know.” He smiled in a strange way and corrected himself. “He bought the wrong book for his wife.” “That was quite a Freudian slip there, eh?” I said and laughed loudly. He laughed a little.
I paid for my Carlin book and as I was leaving, a couple was walking into the store. I overheard part of their conversation as they passed. The woman said, “I’m tired of you telling me all the things you’re going to do and then you never do any of them. Damn tired of it.” I held the door for them and the wife walked on through. The husband said, “Thanks,” and gave me a half-eyebrow raise, undoubtedly acknowledging that he knew that I knew that his wife was a royal pain.
As I walked to my car, I stopped and thought for a moment. That guy bought the wrong wife. And he’s taking her in there for an exchange.
Books-A-Million may have a stupid name. But it’s stupid for a reason. It’s a front. A front for “The Wife Exchange.” It probably does a pretty good business.