How many times have you gone into your local bookshop, exchanged a brief greeting with your bookseller and then promptly disappeared into the shelves? I admit this is usually my pattern and, to be fair, it’s part of the fun of going to a bookshop. Disappearing.
It’s when I arrive at the till and my bookseller makes a remark about my selection (usually positive, but occasionally, refreshingly honest) that I think, “Wow, this woman/man has probably read every book in the shop. I wonder if s/he’s read that book I debated buying for the better half of an hour.” But then, the moment passes, the transaction is completed and I walk out the door, the opportunity missed.
Most frequenters of bookshops are probably, like myself, introverted. What’s more, booksellers are not like other retail salespersons; they will not come up to you while you are thumbing through a new title and begin expounding its values. Maybe they should, though most of us probably prefer it that they don’t.
However, your bookseller probably has read that book you’re thumbing through and, if you trust them, could persuade or disuade you from buying it. And in my experience, if you make your literary interests clear to them, they can be an invaluable resource in leading you to that next life-changing read.
So, here are a few tips for making full use of your knowledgeable bookseller:
1) When you walk into a bookshop don’t just throw a curt hello over your shoulder before making a beeline for the new releases. Make eye-contact with your bookseller, smile and say hello. People skills. I know, it’s not rocket science, I apologize for insulting your intelligence. I’m just saying, making these little efforts can open doors for more literary conversation later on. If you bought a book from this store that you enjoyed, mention it.
2) When you come across an intriguing book by an unknown author, or a book that’s been getting a lot of media buzz, take it to your bookseller and ask: “Have you read this yet? What were your impressions?” My experience is that booksellers are generally honest and will not lead you astray just to make the sale. This is especially the case when you ask them their advice. They respect you for that.
3) Make your criteria known. Share some of your favorite authors, books you’ve really enjoyed. Explain what you’re looking for. Are you wanting to stretch yourself? Explore a new genre? Do you want something hard-hitting or up-lifting? Happy endings or gritty reality?
4) A big rule for me: Don’t buy a book based on a book industry review (NPR, NY Times, The Guardian) before talking it over with your bookseller. This is perhaps more important when you’ve built a relationship with your bookseller and and know they know what you like. But even folks new to the game, I think, could benefit from double-checking with a bookseller. To date, a respected bookseller has yet to lead me astray on a recommendation, while I have pulled my hair out more times than I’d care to admit over a book I bought solely on an NPR recommendation.
5) Get to know your bookseller’s own interests. See where they converge and diverge from your own. Even a bookseller with different tastes from you, if they’re any good, will be able to recommend titles that are right for you. Not to mention, once you’ve gotten to know another reader, you’ll find yourself trying titles opposite to your normal tastes, which can only be a good thing.
6) Understand that just as it’s important to find the right book, it’s important to find the right bookseller. If you notice that a bookseller keeps putting books into your hands that s/he thinks you should read without considering your criteria, it may be time to find a new bookseller. In the end, the bookseller-buyer relationship is just that, a relationship. There must be mutual respect and trust.
7) Finally, don’t be shy! Bookseller are there because they love books. They love talking about them, giving advice about them, and seeing happy people walk away with them. So fight the urge to steal away into the bookcases and never utter a word to anyone during your visit. Reach out to the beneficial resource you have in your bookseller and reap the rewards of many happy hours of reading great literature.