Book recommendations

I was just reading the movie rental recommendations thread in the Pit (synopsis: “people who ask for movie recommendations and don’t know what they’re talking about or won’t listen to the response are annoying”), and it got me thinking. I own a bookstore. One of the most enjoyable parts of the job is helping people to find interesting books.

Quite a few of the people who come into my store ask for recommendations, or ask for help finding a particular book. Maybe it’s because people expect employees in indy bookstores to love books. I’d never ask for recommendations in a Barnes & Noble, because it seems that the people working there don’t know much about books. They would be just as happy working in a coffee shop, shoe store, or K-Mart. Few of them appear to be real book lovers: they’re just earning a buck. (is this a fair characterization?)

Every week, I get people looking for “another author who writes like so-and-so” or “a good history of this area” or “that book about Crow Indians with the yellow cover” or “the Anita Blake book that comes after ’ Cerulean Sins.’” Sometimes it’ll be “I want to re-read a classic. What should I pick?” or “Do you have something about the Indian wars from the Indian’s perspective?” or just “What’s the best piece of fiction you’ve read in the last six months?”

I feel a real sense of accomplishment when someone comes in looking for a book and can’t remember the author’s name and has the title completely wrong, and I still find it for them.

Would you enjoy a job where you fielded questions like that? Do you ask questions like that yourself?

Yep. I’m flattered when anyone asks me a question about anything, even if it’s “What’s good on TV tonight?”.

I’ve never gotten help from clerks in the chain bookstores, but the independent owners I’ve encountered are a treasure. That’s where I found The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon. Can you recommend something similar? :wink:

Having paid my way through much of grad school working in an Indy bookstore, and been part of the indy bookstore blast against B&N back in 2000, I feel your sense of accomplishemnt when someone asks me for a good book, or where to hike around here, or what’s the name of that island right there, is it really part of New York [talking about Fisher’s Island]. I love it. Then again I have an affinity for helping people no matter what the question is.
There are people who are not like this, almost the anitithesis this. They do not want to be bothered.

I tend to patronize only those book stores who are a member of Book Sense. They tend to be the care-a-lot independent bookstores in this area. Why just last week I was sitting in a little corner nook of my favorite bookstore in my area [reading a book on tying flies on the fly] …a woman approached the desk and asked the young woman behind the counter this question:
I’m looking for a very funny book, by a dead man, who was very fat, and lived in New Orleans

A quizzical look became the young book keep and I loudly whispered from around the corner in my nook - ** A Confederacy of Dunces - by Toole**

The woman said: Thats it! Ah Ha!

And she was properly directed to the correct section. The young book keep came around the corner and said thank you to me. I only gestured saying it was my pleasure.

But yes, I too love helping people with whatever information I can give.

There is nothing similar. :wink: You might like Fools Crow, by James Welch, though. Or perhaps Do Drums Beat There? by Doe Tabor. If you read either of those, let me know if you liked them.

Bless you, my son. Send me a private message next time you travel out to this part of the country. Mayhaps I can buy you a locally-brewed craft beer and we can park on the couch in my bookstore and talk books for a while.

A dude at Borders turned me on to Neil Gaiman. Never read him before. Good stuff.

I’ve read Fool’s Crow. Good choice. I found the Tabor book at Amazon for $3 (signed even!). I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks!

Will do - I see you are in Montana - I have relatives in Great Falls and in a little town called Anaconda out in the western part of the state. I’ll PM you when we come.

I dunno if you wanted comments from bookstore people exclusively, but my favorite job was working at a record store because I LOVED when people would ask me my opinions, and ask for recommendations. If there was any way at all that I could live on such a meager salary, I would take that job again in a heartbeat. Really. Being able to talk with a customer about one of my/their favorite records for a half hour or longer…and that is considered work. What could be better?

I have always wanted to work in a bookstore for the same reasons, although my book knowledge is…not so great (although much better than my film knowledge, which is nonexistent).

I think there’s a big difference between someone saying “I loved XXX, can you recommend something similar?” and people saying “What book should I read?”

It’s really frustrating to list your favorites only to hear “Nah. I don’t like those things. What else?”

I don’t mind giving advice as long as I have something to go on.

I’ve always thought that I’d love to be a children’s librarian, if it weren’t for all the damn kids. :slight_smile:

“Read what I tell you to read, and be quiet, dammit!”

I work at Borders part time, and you might be surprised at how knowledgeable some of the sellers are. I have three co-workers who are absolutely amazing when it comes to recommendations. Be it travel, beginning reader, astronomy, social sciences, or fiction…they’ve got soemthing in mind.
One guy, a store manager, has a memory so good that he remembers the spine and front cover of pretty much any book that’s been on display once. Considering the displays change weekly, that’s a lot of books! He considers it a challenge to recommend something to every person he talks to.

In fact, they’re implementing a storewide policy to ask “What can I recommend for you?” of every customer we speak with. I like it because it forces me to learn about other genres and authors I’d otherwise ignore.

I’ll admit, I’ve played the “stump the Borders Clerk” more than once. It’s something fun to do when us Indy Booky’s go into Big Book Company X. Playing stump the Borders Clerk one evening I found there were several clerks who knew quite a bit about certain genres. I would be remiss if I were to call them all mindless dolts - because most of them are quite knowledgeable.

I mainly patronize independent bookstores because I like to support local markets, and I like to support people search for knowledge in smelly musty places :slight_smile:

Wow. That’s impressive.

We used to have a librarian here with an eidetic memory. It was an amazing thing to see. People would ask him about magazine articles and he would name what magazine and what issue it was in–sometimes even the page number–going back over ten years.

The downside to it was that his shelving structure was–how to put this politely?–random. He just put books wherever there was room, and he always remembered where they were, so it was no problem. Unless, of course, you wanted to browse by yourself or he was out sick. His replacement switched to a more traditional shelving system ;).

This thread is better suited for Cafe Society.

I’ll move it for you.

Cajun Man
for the SDMB

Let me first say this: I have known people whose memories are like vast libraries, rustling softly with cool and ordered knowledge. Mine, on the other hand, is more like the result of an attic full of hundreds of years worth of mathoms collapsing into a special-effects workshop. Nevertheless, I take great delight when someone asks me a question, and I’m able to reach randomly into the rubble and pull forth the very thing they were looking for–a bit dusty, perhaps, but none the worse for wear.

So, yes, I think I would enjoy a job where I fielded such questions. In fact, I enjoy doing so at my current job from time to time, although the questions tend to be technical, rather than literary. For now, I mostly content myself with helping other bookshop browsers occasionally.

For the record, I have found a number of true bibliophiles working even amongst the Starbucks drones at B&N. The big chains never have the welcoming feel of a little independent shop, though. A good indy store feels like home the minute I walk through the door; the big chain stores just feel like…stores.

Your bookstore sounds really fun, and a place I would like to shop.

I also like identifying books, and several times have been the “buttinsky” who overhears another customer describing a book to a sales person, and if he/she can’t come up with an answer, I’ve been able to throw my two cents in.

At my work, I am the institutional memory because I have been there forever (it seems) and I love it when people in other offices get stumped trying to remember something and call me up. Recently I got “Hey, in about 1993 we interviewed this guy for a position, but I don’t remember what position it was, and he didn’t get the job, but in the interview he mentioned he had previously worked for another college that was possibly in Iowa, or possibly another state that starts with “I” – do you remember his name?” I have this thing where I try to ask as few follow up questions as possible (kind of like Name That Tune) so I asked “Did he have a weird beard?” And he did, and then I remembered his name. I’m sure that’s somewhere in the files, but we don’t file things under “Weird Beard” (although maybe we should).

So, can we ask you for odd and vague book recommendations?


I’d never ask for recommendations in a Barnes & Noble, because it seems that the people working there don’t know much about books. They would be just as happy working in a coffee shop, shoe store, or K-Mart. Few of them appear to be real book lovers: they’re just earning a buck. (is this a fair characterization?)
I don’t think so. I once applied to a new Border’s that was opening in my area and was stunned into silence when the manager told me the wages (slightly higher than minimum wage.) (This, in spite of the fact that their prices are ridiculously high.) Those people cannot be working there for the money. They have to like books.

While we have a fairly high turnover rate with the younger, first job, part-time crowd, pretty much everyone else is in it for love of the job. Many staff, management or not, have been there for years, even going from full time to part time just to stay a part of the store.
One supervisor had his car fail on him two weeks ago, and he’s riding a scooter to work because he doesn’t have the money to purchase a new car or fix the old one. A supervisor! I’ve asked him if he’s considered taking another job…with his experience he could do much better salary-wise. He told me no way… that even though he’d love more money, he wants to stay working with Borders and just keep going up the chain.

The Brazos Bookstore is the major indy in Houston. They specialize in “literature” & the arts. But their approach is* nouvelle cuisine*. That is, they offer a few high-class selections set off by lots of empty space. The staff is stand-offish & I used to “stump” them regularly. They will, begrudgingly, let you place orders. I occasionally drop by.

Not very fond of Barnes & Noble right now. They’re about to close down their Bookstop location & replace it with a generic book warehouse. The Bookstop is a remodeled Art Deco movie theater that retains some “local” connections–plus a section of employee recommendations. Seems like you’re judging the employees, since you don’t bother talking to them. I’m sure some of them would love to own a bookstore–but they can’t afford it.

I remember A Clean, Well Lighted Place in San Francisco. Crammed wall to wall with a great selection. But it’s apparently closed. Alas, I would have been a great patron if I lived in the city. At least City Lights Books is still there. (And I do order online from City Lights.)

I’m all for supporting good local indy bookstores. If they want my business.

Otherwise, we have several Half Price Books locations in town.