One of the things I get paid the big bucks for, down at the book store, is recommending books. Okay, I will confess: I don't really like this part of the job. Sometimes I do -- sometimes I really sense that a customer will like what I like and I turn all fanatic, pressing my favorites on them. And sometimes I feel like a temporary psychic: something just descends on me and I know a customer is destined for a certain book. A woman looking for something for her hip, J.S. Foer-reading niece? That Miranda July collection, duh!
But most of the time I'm a little bit at sea. Do you know what people ask for most of the time? Besides a gift for their precocious 7 year old niece (and I make sure those poor kids get the fancy gift edition of The Secret Garden), they want something "light, uplifting, like a beach read... but not stupid." Aw, geez, man, I dunno! Elizabeth McCracken's The Giant's House is pretty charming and smart, but the guy dies in the end, so is it uplifting? I usually press them a bit more: Do they like The Secret Life of Bees, or The Devil Wears Prada? Exactly what kind of fluff are they after? Or do they not want fluff at all, just something more fluffy than The Tin Drum?
Why do people like what they like? I think about this a lot. Do most people like whole classes of things, or are they more likely to like specific examples of a wide range of things? We assume the former but I think the latter is more common. People are quirky. Sometimes the narrator of a book just ticks them off, and there's no explaining it. It's almost as hard to set people up with a book as it to find them a lover.
And anyway, why are they asking some random schlump behind the counter what to read? Oh, I get it: they want someone to blame. Cousin Wanda didn't like Duma Key? Yeah, well I know whose fault it is -- that bookstore woman's!
There's nothing better than getting a recommendation right, though. I know it's happened to me, though I can't think of any titles at the moment. Do you have any recommendation successes to share? I'll be sure to steal them for my next shift.