This is a guest post from Tirzah Price. Tirzah is a YA writer and indie bookseller in Michigan. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and blogs at thecompulsivereader.com. Follow her on Twitter@TirzahPrice.
It happens at least once a week: Someone blows into the bookstore where I work, and asks for specific title or if a certain author has released a new book yet. If the answer is no, they either leave immediately, or spend two minutes scanning the nearest shelves for something else before giving up. While I can appreciate that sometimes you need a specific book and no substitutions will do, this sort of kamikaze browsing would really bother me because it felt so half-hearted, like the customer was giving up too soon.
I used to believe that anyone who went into a bookstore with money to spend and walked out empty-handed after more than five minutes must be crazy. I wondered what was wrong with my bookstore—were my displays not colorful enough, not interesting enough? But one day, as a mother hustled her young daughter out of the store after only a few minutes of scanning the Middle Grade section for a new book, it hit me: Some people never learn how to browse for books.
True book browsing is about discovery. It’s physical. At its best, book browsing is like the inevitable twist in a good book–surprising yet exactly what you wanted. While there’s nothing wrong with knowing what genres you like and what you want to read next, I believe that taking the time to browse and explore is pure fun and can be extremely rewarding. Here are five tips to up your book browsing game for your next trip to the bookstore or library:
Give yourself an absolute minimum of thirty minutes to browse.
It may be tempting to squeeze a trip to the bookstore in between errands or before a lunch date, but good browsing does not happen instantly. You have to give yourself time to get into the zone, and time to let yourself wander into lesser-known territory. You don’t want to feel rushed, either. That’s when you start skipping over spines and reading titles without processing them, possibly missing out on your next favorite book!
Ask a stranger for recommendations.
If asking another browser what books they like is out of your comfort zone, get beyond the staff picks and hit up a bookseller for recommendations. I highly recommend asking booksellers to show you their favorite section(s) of the store. It gives you a physical place to start when you’re stuck, and it saves you from dead-ending on a few recommendations you might have already read or don’t care for. Don’t protest if you’re led to the Cooking or Religion sections when you’re more of a Mystery and YA person. There’s something liberating about asking a total stranger for recommendations, knowing that they don’t know your tastes and you don’t know theirs. You’re bound to get the most honest, unfiltered answer.
Pick up the books.
Booksellers like to hand you books rather than pointing at them because research shows that if you physically touch something, you’re more likely to become emotionally invested. If you’re having a hard time connecting with the books on the shelf, pick one up. Look at titles, cover art, read the inside flaps, open to random pages. I’ll never forget the delight on a woman’s face when I handed her a copy of Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King and she opened it up to the page with a flow chart of Vera’s feelings. She was sold.
Give yourself a browsing goal.
If wandering aimlessly through the stacks causes undue anxiety, make up broad goals like, “pick a book by an author I’ve never heard of.” A goal gives you a place to start, but keeping it open-ended allows for you to deviate as you get into the browsing state of mind. I like to go into bookstores and look for books in genres I don’t read heavily, like Travel Memoirs or Humor, but that’s not always where I end up.
Keep an open mind.
Even the most devoted of book-ish types can fall into a book browsing rut. It’s understandable—we know what we like, and the adage “so many books, so little time” haunts our groaning bookshelves. While there’s no rule that says you have to vary your book diet, taking a leap of faith on a new genre can be really fun. I never would have discovered one my favorite authors (Tana French!) if I hadn’t asked a bookseller what her favorite non-YA book was. Now I inhale mysteries like oxygen.
Bonus tip—change up your destination!
I’m all for bookstore loyalty, but every bookstore has a unique personality and is staffed by different people whose buying tastes may vary. For the ultimate book-browsing bonanza, take a few hours to explore a bookstore you’re not very familiar with, or the local library you only visit once a month.