I Don’t Know How To Shop For Books Anymore

Susie Rodarme

Staff Writer

Susie Rodarme is obsessed with small press literary fiction and tea. Other notable skills: chainmaille weaving, using Photoshop semi-correctly, and drinking gin.

Yeah so, the other day, I had to go to an event on the other side of town and I left hella early because traffic, amirite? I had a plan for leaving early, though: fewer than five minutes from the location of the event was a plaza that included a Barnes & Noble. I thought I’d roll on into the B&N, grab myself a Venti unsweetened black iced tea, buy a book, and read until I had to be at the event.

Phases 1 and 2 went off without a hitch. I did, indeed, roll on in and order a frosty beverage. At first, I thought Phase 3 was going to go well, too. I’ve been on a Batman bender lately and the comic book section drew me like a nerd-magnet; unfortunately, after only a minute or two of browsing, it was swarmed by summer vacationing pre-teens and I moseyed over to the fiction section. It’s hard to maintain a reputation as a book snob when you’re fighting a 12-year-old for the last copy of The Killing Joke.

I’ve written before about my ideal bookstore, but obviously I could make it work in a less-than-ideal situation. I’ve been a life-long reader. I got this. Right?

Turns out, I don’t got this. Not even a little bit.

Barnes & Noble lumps almost everything that isn’t YA, romance, crime (I think), or sci-fi/fantasy into the same category of “fiction.” That includes literary fiction, chick-fic and dude-fic, fiction in translation, classics, small press and indie fiction, and a bunch of other subgenres, all mashed up together under one heading, in alphabetical order.


Maybe I’ve been ridiculously spoiled by the bookternet, but unless I have a specific title that I’m gunning for (and it happens to be a title that Barnes & Noble carries, which usually isn’t the case when I want a specific title), I find it impossible to even know where to start. I’ve gotten so spoiled on being able to filter and sort, search by subgenre or literary school, or “related” authors/topics/styles, that when faced with a broad sampling of current and classic literature that isn’t otherwise arranged or organized, my brain short-circuits. I end up wandering aimlessly and slightly panicked through aisle after aisle without really taking in what I’m looking at.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t end up buying a book. I scurried out of B&N with my proverbial tail between my legs, defeated. I didn’t even look at my TBR, knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to find most of the books I wanted to read. I’ve been down that road before.

I feel like a reading failure. I used to work in a chain bookstore, for crying out loud–I bought dozens of books every payday. How did I forget how to shop in one? And how do I go forward–do I admit defeat and not darken the door of my local B&N again? Do I just start in the A’s and look at everything? Should I use Twitter to crowdsource my shopping? Do I move to Chicago, set up camp outside of Quimby’s (my favorite bookstore of all time) and never, ever leave?

I have forgotten how to shop for books. I feel deep shame.

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