In our technology saturated world, it may seem like book lovers search for books and get their book recommendations in primarily one way; through the internet, with sites like Goodreads and Amazon and other book blogs. But a surprising amount of people remain loyal to brick and mortar bookstores and libraries. I make it a point to go to brick and mortar places because I find browsing the shelves yields books that I would have had no chance of discovering while browsing the internet. Unfortunately, there is an inherent problem with browsing books at a bookstore or the library. That problem is actually seeing the book!
We all judge a book by its cover. A nicely designed or interesting book cover will grab the attention of a casual browser and get that person to pick up the book to read the blurb. We simply have to know what that book with the great cover is about! The only problem is, we rarely see the book cover while in the bookstore or library. Space constraints on shelves mean we are presented with the book’s spine more often than not. This means instead of a whole book cover, that book now has just an inch or two of space on its spine to intrigue a person into picking that book up for a look see.
For the most part, the spine of a book is too small for a picture of any meaning to be visible. So, it’s up to the book’s title to get as much mileage as it can. This means font and presentation and the words themselves. I don’t know about you but nothing annoys me faster than some loopy, squirrely font that is completely unreadable. It may be very pretty, in theory, but if I can’t read it sideways and probably from a couple of feet away, then it’s useless. If you are one of the lucky authors that have their books displayed at eye level then it might not be a problem but if you’re on the bottom shelf then you need to take that distance into account. Nobody is going to crawl around on the floor trying to read your title. If it can’t be read by someone standing with their head cocked to the side (in standard book browsing position), then it’s no good. So, make your title as colorful and glittery as you want but make sure it’s readable from a distance.
Then there is the title itself. Book titles constantly surprise me. It needs to have at least some connection with the subject of your book and most titles seem so out in left field as to be ridiculous. The book title might sound snazzy but it reveals nothing about what the book might be about. I read mostly fantasy, so when I’m browsing books there are certain words I look for. If a book’s title has one of the keywords I’m looking for, I’ll be more likely to pick it up for a look see. (Your mind = the original Google.)
Anything, and I mean anything, to do with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland will catch my attention. My obsession with Alice and Wonderland is deep and all consuming. (It got me to read Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter and I probably never would have touched the book without that connection.)
It’s a lot to pack into a couple of inches on the side of a book. Very few, very lucky books are displayed on the shelf with their covers visible. So, that couple of inches needs to pack a punch if it’s going to get noticed. Be clear with your font and make sure it’s readable whether your book is at eye level or on the very bottom shelf. Make sure your title has at least something to do with the content of your book and gives a browser some idea of what to expect. Draw a potential reader to your book by including some popular keywords in your genre so that an interested browser can zero in on your book quickly. Above all else, treasure that two inches of space because it may be the first thing a reader sees of your book.
What words do you look for when browsing for books? Do you have problems with some author’s choice of font? What are some books that caught your eye just with its spine?
I finally got up off my butt and down to University City and the Delmar Loop. The Delmar Loop is half tourist trap and half 20-something hang out. It’s full of one of kind boutique shops and overpriced restaurants and bars. There’s an art store, an actual record store, and several large concert venues. (I’ve been down to the Pageant several times.) It’s the type of place where there are honest to god street performers on Saturdays and a drum group gathers in the small plaza in front of the parking lot in the afternoon. They can be heard throughout the area and it is awesome.
(I actually had a friend who lived further up the street, in the residential area in a four square apartment house. [Four square means that there are two apartments downstairs and two apartments upstairs, all identical.] It’s a gorgeous area with a lot of trees and we ended up in the Delmar Loop quite a lot.)
The Delmar Loop also has a bookstore that I’ve been planning to hit for ages, Subterranean Books. It’s a small place. I admit that I walked past it the first time and had to backtrack. I didn’t know what to expect from Subterranean Books. To be honest I thought it might be a little too artsy-fartsy for my tastes. The front window was decorated with a paper pumpkin tree in honor of Halloween when I visited.
Subterranean Books had a huge selection of adult fiction books, much bigger than I’ve seen in other independent bookstores. There was a small selection of young adult books and a tiny section of children’s books. Upstairs had the cooking section and the history section. There was also a good selection of music books, writing guides, humor books, and local Missouri history and travel guides. Everything had handmade signs marking the sections and tucked under certain books were little blurbs about them. The cards were mostly about the subject of the book being featured, why the reader had liked this book so much, and other little information that would attract a browsing booklover’s attention.
It’s an adorable store. I was dead broke when I stopped by and I’m sure I drove the poor sales girl crazy with all my pictures and book fondling. They had some very nice copies of some classic books I’ve been meaning to get but I stood strong against the temptation. I didn’t see anything really obscure or hard to find. Subterranean Books tag is “From High Culture to Subculture”, which sounds like some magic pronouncement. Really, it’s just a small bookstore. The selection was merely decent. The sales girl did offer to order a book I asked about for me but since I don’t live in the area I declined. I was down on the Delmar Loop to attend a kick-off party at Fitz’s Restaurant and picked up a couple of books for the raffle I thought were amusing. (How to Swear in a Foreign Language and Everything a Woman Should Know.)
Saint Louis, MO 63130
Several weeks ago, I discovered a website that lists the indie bookstores in my area. The Saint Louis Independent Bookstore Alliance, which also hosted the ReadMOB for World Book Night back in April, lists indie bookstores from in the heart of the city to out in Saint Charles County, where I live. I hadn’t realized that there were so many bookstores in my area that weren’t Barnes & Noble or Borders. I quickly made a vow to visit each and every one of them and lend my support. I decided to start with the closest to me first and work my way out. So, I’m very pleased to present to you Main Street Books, a small bookshop in the tourist district of old town Saint Charles along the Missouri River.
It’s a small place with three levels. There is a street level where most of the books are and then there is a balcony above that where the children’s books are kept. Up the stairs there was the young adult section squished in a narrow hallway, an airy living room setup, and a disused kitchen with books hidden in the cabinets.
Main Street Books boasts that it specializes in Saint Louis authors, so there was a whole section of history books on the area and a small selection of fiction books from authors that lived here. I ended up buying a cookery book that focuses on the local herbs. (I didn’t even know Saint Louis had a Herb Society.) So far, I’ve made some awesome mint tea with it.
I ended up buying an Alice in Wonderland colors book for baby Allyson, my friend’s kid, and a copy of Le Petit Prince that I’ll wait a little longer to give her. Because every kid needs a copy of The Little Prince.
I walked in with about $40 in my pocket, promising myself I wouldn’t spend more than that. Of course, I walked out with more than $100 worth of books. I picked up a copy of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern because it was on the front table and would not leave me alone. It was just sitting there, in all its shiny glory, whispering “buy me”. I was powerless. I also purchased Witch Catcher by Mary Downing Hahn (review next week!), The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen, The Teashop Girls by Laura Schaefer, Vintage Tea Party by Carolyn Caldicott with photos by Chris Caldicott (and I will admit that I bought it mostly for the pictures) as well as the Herbal Cookery book by the Saint Louis Herb Society. Whew! Bookstores are dangerous places for me.
I’m going to be in South City in Tower Grove Park tomorrow for the Pagan Picnic and, provided the heat doesn’t kill me first, I’ll make it a point to visit Dunaway Books at the same time. It’s used bookshop, so I’m hoping for some good prices. I’ve been known to walk out of used bookstores with a suitcase worth of books. If you’re in Saint Louis this weekend then why don’t you join us? See ya later!
On the other hand, it’s easier to use an e-reader or download an audio book to an mp3 player. My Brother and I got our Mother a Kindle for her birthday a few years ago, back when they were still fairly expensive at $200 a pop. Our whole family is ferocious readers and a trip to the library can often see us leaving with a dozen books each. But when my Mother’s health began to fail and it became harder and harder for her to venture out, we realized we needed another way for her to get the countless mystery and romance novels she reads in a week. So, we bought her a Kindle.
The biggest shock was the price of some of the “books”. It’s just text, just data, but often enough the books bought through Amazon and other online websites were the price of what a paperback would be in real life. About $12. Not a great deal for a bunch of gigabytes. My Mother mostly sticks to the cheaper books (as cheap as $1) that are available to keep down prices. Some of them are even free. Our local library also has a system for e-readers that my Mother can get new books from. It keeps my Brother and me from worrying about whether or not she is bored. It a good solution for people who might have less mobility but it’s not fantastic either.