The Handsell

This is a guest post by Jenn Northington. She is the co-founder of the Bookrageous podcast and the events manager for WORD, a bookstore in Brooklyn, and haunts the interwebs as jennIRL.
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It turns out, “handselling” is not an official word. I know, because I checked. I am going to have to complain to my connections at Merriam-Webster, clearly. Until they get their house in order, I submit to you:

handsell: verb – to recommend a book to a certain person based on their stated preferences and taste

The holidays are rife with opportunities for this, if you’re a bookseller. There’s nothing quite like the moment when, despite having little to no information to work with, you find The Book for Customer X’s insert-troublesome-relative-here. Here are three in particular I’m proud of, in hopes they make your Chrismukkah shopping easier.

Listomania, The Listomaniacs
Dude walks into the store, trying to find a graduation present for his sister. What is she like? “Well, she’s into art and design, and she’s pretty nerdy. … No, I’m not really sure what she likes to read.” We went through half the store together, it felt like, before we hit on Listomania. It’s a “nerd” orgy of trivia (15 Movies Featuring Giant Rabbits! 10 Top Cheese Eating Countries!), laid out in brain-tingling infographic style. I don’t think I know a single person who wouldn’t like this book, actually.

The Tiger’s Wife
, Tea Obreht

A woman came into the store wanting to read a novel about Romania, or maybe by a Romanian author. You can imagine the Googling that resulted. My first choice would have been Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, but we were out! Bookseller nightmare, that. In desperation (the woman was going to leave to go home and do more research and probably buy something ONLINE) I suggested The Tiger’s Wife. While my grasp of geography is shaky at best, I knew that it was not in fact a Romanian novel nor by a Romanian — but I figured it was as close as I was going to get. This family saga, set in a war-torn unnamed Balkan country, puts an old-world mythic spin on modern politics and delivers. And behold! We have a winner.

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, Alina Bronsky

Lady comes in desperate for a book to send her mom for her birthday. She’s not sure what she’s reading, only that she likes to read and probably isn’t into “Oprah stuff.” This is actually an easy one, because it’s mom-approved by my very own! Bronsky’s publisher is Europa Editions, the folks responsible for The Elegance of the Hedgehog and other excellent fiction in translation. Rosa is really the worst mother imaginable: she’s bossy, self-absorbed, makes AWFUL decisions, and cannot understand why the people around her don’t appreciate all she does for them. In other words, you’ll love to hate her. Bonus: You can send it with a card that says “Thanks for not being crazy like this lady!”

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