Step out of your algorithm.

Did you know I used to work in a bookstore? It’s true, for about four years altogether I worked for Barnes & Noble – two years in a sleepy metro Detroit store, and two years in a huuuuge store here in NYC. And once you’ve been a bookseller, you really never quite stop being one. I still love recommending books to strangers, I’m an absolute whiz with comp titles, and I compulsively neaten stacks when I find myself in a bookstore.

But as many things as I loved about being a bookseller, I also came away from that career with quite a few pet peeves. So when I saw an Esquire article called “How to Shop in a Bookstore” flying around Twitter, I opened it with trepidation. Just what kind of bookstore behavior was being suggested? Then I was pleased to read a quite beautiful little essay on the joys of discovery in bookstores – on going in with an open mind, and letting yourself be guided by the brilliant, hilarious, sophisticated, and elegant bookstore employees. Or the article puts it, “I advise finding the man or woman with the weirdest glasses.”

So now that the readers of Esquire will be storming into bookstores eager for recommendations and serendipity, I decided I should to put a few comple

mentary bookstore Don’ts out there:

  • Are you looking for a specific book? Do your friendly bookseller a favor and try to remember the title or the author. Don’t just say “It was on TV.And it’s orange? Or red?” Though you’d be amazed how good a mind reader you become after a couple of weeks at the info desk. And Google will be your new best friend.
  • Do you see a book you’re interested in? Don’t wait – buy it right now! Bookstores change their displays all the time, often on a regular monthly or weekly schedule, sometimes on the fly in response to hot news topics or emerging trends. We’re BOTH going to be unhappy when you storm up to my counter grumbling “HEY where’s that book I saw on this table the other day.” Buy it when you see it! Or come in happy to discover whatever book took its place, as the Esquire writer suggests.
  • Want to dip into a book before you buy it? Go right ahead! That’s one of the beauties of a bookstore – flipping through the pages (and yes, that bookish smell) will always beat out the LookInside preview. But don’t forget that the book isn’t actually yours yet, and be respectful of its pages, cover corners, and spine.
  • Don’t take off your shoes in the bookstore. Seriously.
  • Don’t dismantle a display to create a computer desk for yourself (yes, this happened).
  • And please, for the love of all, do not use the children’s department for free babysitting. ‘Nuff said.

    Don't forget to appreciate  your hard-working booksellers!!

    Don’t forget to appreciate your hard-working booksellers!!

Okay, so maybe those last couple etiquette points are the kind of outlying horror stories that grizzled booksellers love to swap when they get together,

and not the kind of behavior any reader of THIS blog would engage in. And pet peeves aside, there’s nothing a bookseller loves more than meeting a reader eager for suggestions. No matter how you feel about Amazon, whether it’s your best friend or your Lord Vader, nothing quite matches the experience of wandering through a bookstore. The Esquire article puts it beautifully:

“Somewhere in there is something that’s entirely fresh to you, and will reward your soul by exposure. That’s what good books do, and good bookstores, too. They let you step out of your algorithm.”

Do you have a wonderful bookstore in your area? Or do you have any tips for serendipitous discoveries when shopping for books online? 

3 Responses to Step out of your algorithm.

  1. Joelle says:

    I had to laugh at the orange cover bit because our library has started building a new display on a regular basis of books by cover colour. They started with green and pulled all the green books they could find and built the display and then put up a sign that says, “I can’t remember the title, but it has a green cover.” Each week they pick a new colour. So far I’ve read a green book (Ciao Bella!) that I’ve never heard of, and a yellow book. And for the red books, they added my YA, The Right & the Real, which was sweet.

    • sharon says:

      That sounds like fun! I know some people organize their home bookshelves by color…

      • Lynn says:

        I’ve wanted to do something similar for a long time. My philosophy has always been “less is more” except for books. I have a personal library that includes thousands. (Thank goodness for 9′ ceilings!) In keeping with my Zen decor, I’ve thought of covering each book in a black or white book cover. Can you imagine the graphic possibilities in arranging them on shelves, they’re limitless. (Books become art!)

        The only thing stopping me from doing it is finding the time to do it. The title and author would have to be printed on each cover. Otherwise, a nightmare would ensue trying to find a particular book when they all look alike! And although I do have them categorized and alphabetized now, it’s not always easy finding the book I want.

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