Bookstore Browsing for Beginners

Bookends and Beginnings interior

Bookends & Beginnings in Evanston, IL (c) 2015 Robert C. Trube

For bibliophiles, walking into a bookstore is a form of paradise. But for someone who is awakening to a hunger for good books that go beyond what you can find in the local grocery store, bookstores can be daunting because there are SO many books. Where do you start? How do you find something you’ll like?

Bookriot ran what I thought was a helpful story on this recently, written by a bookseller. Perhaps her most helpful suggestion was to allow yourself enough time for a leisurely browse, at least 30 minutes. She also suggested asking booksellers or even total strangers for recommendations, taking time to pick up the books, read the insides of covers, table of contents, even the first pages. There are some other great ideas in this article as well.

Here are a few other thoughts based on my own browsing experiences:

  1. Consider a section related either to a reading interest or life interest of yours. Do you like to garden? Spend some time in a gardening section or the nature section of the store. Do you like to make or listen to music? Perhaps there is something about a favorite musician or composer or type of music that could enhance your appreciation. Like sports? Some of the best writing around is sports writing and some of the best authors have done it. Do you like mysteries or thrillers? Newsstands and book stands in groceries only have the latest authors. Bookstores often have authors that have been around for a while or the first book in a series that is up to 25.
  2. Look for books that have copyrights twenty years or more old. If it is in a new bookstore, there are people who have been enjoying it for many years and telling others to buy it and it has stayed in print and continues to be stocked. That’s a good sign.
  3. Spend time in just one section and get familiar with the authors, titles, subjects within that section. It is easy to just flit around and not really look at anything. Take time to browse titles that look interesting. If a bookseller comes by, ask if they have any recommendations for books in this section. Over a number of visits, you get to know a section and recognize when there’s something new. Also, as you read, you may see other books of a similar nature referenced, or even see recommendations of other books on sites like Goodreads. The next time you visit, you can look for that book.
  4. Choose a section you don’t ordinarily look at some times. Maybe if you read a lot of fiction, look at biographies. Do you like nature stories? Maybe take a look at the science section. Maybe current events in a particular part of the world have caught your attention. A history of that part of the world could be interesting.
  5. I check out best-sellers, recommended books, and featured books. If you have reading friends, perhaps they have mentioned some of these and, if it is a type of book you like, it could make for interesting conversation. This is a great way to learn about things you might not otherwise consider reading.
  6. I like to check out bargains as well. Sometimes these are on new releases, which can be a decent deal. Other bargains in new bookstores are often “remaindered” books that haven’t sold that well, so you might steer clear of those. Many used stores have a bargain area where I’ve discovered some real finds. Sometimes it is just a matter of too many copies of a book. You might even find something they are charging more for in another part of the store.
  7. Use your smartphone. I’m not saying use the bookstore as a showroom to order the book online. Rather, if you are interested in a book, look up the online reviews and see what others are saying about it. Then buy it from the bookseller who has created this place where you can have the pleasures of browsing and the serendipitous opportunities to discover books and authors you never knew about that an online algorithm would not point you toward.

I really like the article’s suggestion of allowing yourself some time. “Browsing” in these days of internet and smartphone is often an activity of frenetically clicking or swiping or tapping from one site to the next. It’s different in a bookstore. This is a place to slow down and savor. Usually the people who work in bookstores love books, like to recommend books, and realize that good recommendations mean you will keep coming back.

Don’t worry about finding the “right” book. Often I feel it is the case when I’m browsing that the right book ends up finding me. And if it doesn’t, that’s OK as well. I don’t mind walking out empty-handed rather than buying something just to say I’ve bought something. Perhaps you’ll look in different places, or there will be new books, or you will “see” something you hadn’t seen before even if it was there. The books will find you.


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