Carrie Deming opened Palmyra, New York independent bookstore The Dog Eared Book in January 2015 selling used books, but about a year later, when she started adding new titles into the mix, she noticed a disturbing phenomenon: customers were turning around the LGBTQ+ titles she had on display so their covers weren’t facing out. Deming has never witnessed anyone doing it, but said in an interview that the behavior started “almost immediately.”
After being frustrated with this interference for years, Deming posted a TikTok video last week showing what happens after customers who object to same-sex pairings on covers leave: the books get turned back around face front. The video, highlighting “more weird things that happen in bookshops,” shows titles including The Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat Sebastian, Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender, Pumpkin by Julie Murphy, and The Hellion’s Waltz by Olivia Waite, being turned back around. It quickly went viral, and has since garnered over two and a half million views. In the video, Deming says “people don’t always agree with all the books that we have on display,” so, in between customers, “we have to…run around and make sure that people haven’t taken books that they don’t agree with and turn them around so that the back is facing the front instead of the cover.”
The newfound notoriety also brought an influx of orders overnight, three times the usual number the store receives. Deming said the orders were all placed by new customers from across the United States, mainly of LGBTQ+ books, including some that were featured in the video. She’s also seen an increase in in-person customers, many of whom have said they learned about her bookstore via the TikTok video. Deming says she’s deeply appreciative of the attention the post has received, calling it “unexpected but so welcome.”
Deming, who joined TikTok in March of 2021, where she primarily posts about book recommendations and new releases, said she decided to post the video “because I knew it was common in bookstores, but I figured a lot of people might not know that this happens and would be interested.” She said responses have generally fallen into three categories: Other booksellers and librarians chiming in to say that they deal with the same issues, people “appalled that this sort of bigotry and attempts at censorship are happening” and people admitting that they also turn or move books around in stores (though not all do so regarding LGBTQ titles).
Deming was quick to note that it’s not her regular customers who are tampering with her displays. Instead, she suspects the culprits are “primarily casual browsers and tourists who flip covers or hide books they don’t like. Some people will feel comfortable purchasing from our shop after they have done this, others will just quietly leave.” Deming says she’s never confronted anyone about doing this because she’s never caught them in the act, but has had a customer ask her not to display LGBTQ+ titles “so prominently” near the front of the store, but noted that the customer “seemed to understand when I told her we wouldn’t be moving the books. “
Deming has also experienced people leaving flyers with Bible passages in books in her store, usually in LGBTQ+ titles, something another bookseller commenting on the video has also noticed. While Deming has never seen anyone do it, she has found the flyers when tidying up; they get promptly dropped in the recycling bin. Deming said this activity tends to go in waves. “It won’t happen for a long time, then it will happen very often over several weeks.” The store has had LGBTQ+ books displayed in its window, but has never received any complaints about them.
Another major pet peeve of Deming’s as a bookseller is people who ask her for book recommendations, “then take pictures of the covers and tell me they are going to buy online. Having people treat my shop as a showroom for Amazon is very disheartening.”
As for the message she hopes to convey to those tempted to turn her displays around, Deming said she simply wants them to “please stop. Bookshops are for everyone, which is why we strongly believe in representation in our stock choices.”
Asked for additional LGBTQ+ book recommendations, Deming highlighted five titles (her comments are in quotes): The House In The Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, one of her favorite books, which she calls “a great feel good fantasy,” Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (“a dark, powerful novella that will make you think”), Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (“a charming romantic comedy”), Plain Bad Heroines by Emily Danforth (“gothic metafiction unlike anything else I’ve ever read”), and Yesterday is History by Kosoko (“a YA love triangle with time travel”).
Deming is adamant that even if customers continue to turn her LGBTQ+ book displays around, that won’t affect how she goes about stocking her store and promoting said titles. “I’m going to continue to display and feature books that we think are worth reading. Some people might find these books divisive but I do not. Bookstores should be a reflection of our communities.”