The other day I was helping a fellow bookseller work through a very difficult decision, one that we are faced with every single working day. It plagues us incessantly as we walk through the aisles and go about our jobs, haunts us as publishers release new editions, and taunts us as UBC buyers take in books.
What books should I buy?
Now, we're about to delve into some dangerous territory where we judge books by their cover, but this cannot be helped. We must be ruthless, so I've made a handy list of questions to help.
1. Does the design make you salivate, as in the case of The Geometry of Pasta? Does it set you down a journey to discover who designed a book with such continuity, the exterior moving seamlessly into the interior? Does it make you bookmark a website (in this case, heredesign.co.uk) to look at later, eventually realizing this design team is behind several other books that caught your eye independently of this one? Does it make you realize you need those books too?
2. Have you been meaning to read this book for ages, to the point where you are hiding from the person who suggested it to you because you keep meaning to read it but haven't yet?
3. Will the spines look good on your shelf, as is the case of NYRB Classics rainbow spines, or Melville House's Art of the Novella series? Will your guests sigh over the beautiful continuity on your bookself, one they will jealously imagine later on as they stare at their own, less color-coordinated shelves?
4. Are they part of a series of mass market paperbacks you have been collecting about a particular long-running British television show to facilitate occasional "Choose Your Own Adventure"-type reading, to hilarious results? Because then you need to buy every single one you get your hands on.
5. Is it signed? Will you let that book slip through your fingers, knowing it has been touched by an author you love?
6. Is it a new edition of a book you already own multiple editions of? Yes. Of course yes. The only thing is, you have to buy the rest in the series because they're right next to them, and used at that! (Confidential to Penguin Classics, Harper Perennial and the like: You are my weakness, and I hope I never acquire the ability to overcome you)
7. Has this book been haunting you? Do you flip through it any chance you get, admiring the pages and the words upon it? Do you dream about it at night?
Buying books for yourself, especially among booksellers, can be an emotionally wrought process full of highs and lows. In the case of my co-worker: she went home laden with heavy books but light with the glee of owning tomes she had been wanting for ages. Good decision? Yes.