I was at the library (more at another time on what I was doing at the library), and a woman I know fairly well walked by holding a book she was on her way to take out. I glanced down to see what it was, and saw that it was a novel by a writer I also know fairly well. This writer’s first novel got excellent reviews. I read it and liked it a lot. This writer’s second novel also got excellent reviews; I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. This writer’s third novel was published this year. I read it and very much disliked it. I never bothered reading reviews because I had my own: ugh! It was this book this woman was about to withdraw from the library and, presumably, read.
I wanted to save her the trouble. I interceded. In a loudish (non-library) voice, I called over to her. “Don’t read it, Sally,” I said (not her real name, of course). “It’s not good.”
What I want to say here is that I almost never do that. I almost never tell someone not to read a book, and I almost never say flat out “it’s not good.” I like to give a book a chance; each reader is different. But in this case, not only did I not enjoy the book, but another friend who reads totally different types of books also happened to read it and she too disliked it.
A very big part of my job as a bookseller is to be able to guess what other people will enjoy reading. If I read a book and love it, it’s clear that I’m going to add it to our bookstore collection and recommend it. But if I don’t love it, that doesn’t mean I won’t sell it. And also we have many, many books that I haven’t read, that either I want to read but haven’t gotten to yet or that I don’t ever intend to read but I know we should carry them.
The trick is guessing what will appeal to other people. That’s the hard part. I know what I like. But trying to determine what other people will like, even if it’s not something I would read, that’s what Evan and I have to do on a regular basis to fill our store. That’s what makes us good at being booksellers.
Which is why I almost never say “don’t read that.” But this time I did. Sally came over and asked me why I suggested she skip that particular title. She listened politely and intently. Then she said that her husband had read a review and recommended it as something he thought sounded like her kind of book. Husband trumps bookseller.
A week later Sally came into the bookstore, as she often does. “I need to tell you something,” she said. “That book was awful.”
Come by and I’ll recommend a book for you. You can trust me.