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« "Next Book" a Matter of Right Place, Right Time | Main | The Big Question--What's Your 'Next Book' »

The Next Book as an 'Embarrassment of Riches'

I recently started a "retirement" shelf in my house where I put books that I really wanted to read that passed me by or classics I never got to read. I can't go back because I always need to read ahead. This shelf wouldn't be funny if I was nearing retirement but I'm only 42! In 25 years, I'll have a great collection to dig into! --Casey Coonerty Protti of Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, Calif.

The quest continues. We are now deep into the hunt for strategies great booksellers employ to choose their "next book" to read (see here & here & here), a challenge that two of this week's featured booksellers aptly describe as "an embarrassment of riches."

Connie Brooks

Connie Brooks of Battenkill Books, Cambridge, N.Y., said her process is "definitely more instinctual than planned, though certainly not without thought. I just read Miriam Toews's forthcoming U.S. publication of Women Talking not because it sounded like 'pleasure' reading, but because I thought that it is going to be an important book to read, and one that people will want to know about. Then the ARC for Katherine Howe's The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs hit my desk, and I just shrieked for joy and rushed home to read it. Then there are books that I read for the store's fiction book club. That gives me a chance to read either a title new to paperback or a backlist title. This month we'll be reading Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, which I did not read when it was new."

Brooks added that finding time to reread works has been more challenging: "It hasn't happened yet to a book in 10 years of owning a bookstore. I keep telling myself I'm going to reread A Gentleman from Moscow, but somehow the time hasn't come yet. There are books I used to reread every year, like Lord of the Rings and Age of Innocence, but, again, since owning the shop I haven't gone back to those old faves in a long time."

Cheryl McKeon

For Cheryl McKeon of the Book Passage, San Francisco Calif., "every day of the past 19 years I have been grateful that reading books is in my job description. The embarrassment of riches that flows into the bookstore and home mailboxes, however, means decisions must be made. The stack of ARCs must be pruned. With few exceptions, I read to fulfill commitments, which doesn't mean I'm not completely enjoying the titles."

As a Shelf Awareness reviewer, she reads and reviews titles monthly. "Often these would have been on my 'for pleasure' list anyhow," McKeon noted. "But also I've covered books that might not have otherwise come on my radar. As a former teacher, I love introducing customers to books they might not otherwise discover. I read Shelf, newspapers and IndieNext reviews, as well as publishers' promos to identify intriguing titles. But I often laugh that I miss some bestsellers, because these books don't need me. I try to read books by authors I'll be hosting or meeting, but authors understand if a bookseller hasn't kept up."

McKeon also scans book jacket blurbs because she believes "good authors aren't promiscuous with their endorsements, and if I see favorite authors are enthused about a title, I'll add it to my to-read stack. Books that I am attracted to or I feel deserve attention but I know I won't get to, I try to find homes for. The USPS Media Rate is a wonderful service. My neighbors love that I am their supplier. I never read classics anymore, which has come to include anything more than a year old. My stacks are constantly threatening to topple."

Hans Weyandt

Although he doesn't have a formal process for choosing what he is going to read next, Hans Weyandt of Milkweed Books, Minneapolis, Minn., said he tries to limit himself to one ARC, one current release and one older book at a time. "Like almost all other booksellers, if I have a problem with choosing books, it is an embarrassment of riches situation and from time to time I get stuck. Usually a day or two goes by and something shows up to change that. I've never been much of a re-reader of books--essays or stories, sure--and for me it's important to allow myself to read older stuff so I don't get caught in the game of only reading forthcoming books."

I was intrigued when Weyandt mentioned he belongs to a book club outside the store. "That has been quite a gift to let others choose books for me to read," he said. "I ended up joining this club several years ago after I had given a reporter one of their names. She was doing a story on book clubs in general and was looking for more anecdotes from men."

Noting that he has always been someone who listened to reading tips and advice from reps and other booksellers, Weyandt observed that "joining the club was the first time I'd really had someone else tell me what to read since college. Our general rules are fiction only and less than 400 pages and it has to be a book that no one in the club has read--though we've recently amended that to include books that someone might have read more than 10 years ago. It makes the person choosing have to make several selections at times and generally leads us to quite new or much older or off the beaten path titles. The discussions are always showing me what I miss as a reader and make me appreciate the books more even when I don't necessarily love them."

Our bookish "embarrassment of riches" wraps up next week.

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #3447

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