Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bestsellers or Off-the-Beaten-Path?

So, obviously, we get a lot of people looking for book recommendations. Helping people find a book they will love is one of my favorite things. I have noticed, in my book-recommending career, that there are two main types of people who will ask for my help. The first type is looking for that hidden gem that they will fall in love with. I have lots of those books- some are on my picks shelf right now. If you love historical fiction and aren't afraid of a complicated plot, then The Witch of Cologne is for you. Protestants versus Catholics versus Jews, and a royal succession scandal, and a star-crossed lovers story for good measure? Perfect. Prefer more modern literary stories? Maybe you'd like The Tricking of Freya, about a young Icelandic immigrant girl who loves her vibrant yet unstable aunt and old stories, but ends up in a frightening adventure.

I can go on all day. I read a lot of science fiction/fantasy and mystery too, so those genres hold no fear for me- they are old friends. If you're looking for a book, I like to ask about the books you've enjoyed most recently, find out what you loved about them, and find something that speaks to the same style or subject that intrigued you.

There is a second type of person too. This person does NOT want a recommendation that they have never heard of. They only want me to recommend them books that they already know about. Perhaps this is a way of staying safe. Maybe they don't trust me? Maybe they don't know that at our bookstore, we're not just going to hand them the most expensive book in the store to make an extra buck.

I haven't read everything on the bestseller list. That's partly because there's no way to keep up with it, partly because I actually distrust the bestseller list. Maybe it's because I wasn't one of the popular girls in high school, but I distrust popularity for its own sake. This goes for books, too. I wasn't the biggest fan of Water for Elephants or of The Da Vinci Code. However, I passionately love The Help and The Tiger's Wife. So, part of what I like to do with recommendations is promote things that aren't bestsellers, because you already know all of them by looking at the display shelves. Has anyone missed that Little Bee, Room, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks are great books? Those titles are all over the place. But what about my shy wallflowers, Mistress of the Art of Death, Possessing the Secret of Joy, or The Tea Rose? They deserve good homes, too.

So, do you peruse the bestsellers or the farthest corners of the bookstore? I confess, I do both.

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