Monday, February 24, 2014

Book Recommendations are Hard. Really Hard.

Three books I'm excited we got into kids these last two weeks:

1. Discovery of Dragons by Graeme Base
This is a preview of next month! Have you seen our awesome new author/illustrator of the month display? You should check it out.

2. Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick
None of us have been able to explain this book to each other successfully. But we loved it. It's different and it's lovely. Also, it won the Printz and we finally have it.

3. Locomotive by Brian Floca
Okay, so this one isn't new but we all sighed great sighs of relief when we got this year's Caldecott winner back in stock.

It's not uncommon to walk into the backroom and find a bookseller leaning over a small piece of colored paper with a really frustrated look on their face. We know this look. We are well acquainted with this look.  This bookseller is trying to write a recommendation.

You've seen them, I'm sure. They litter the shelves, sticking joyfully out into the aisle (especially back in kids) trying to get your attention and present you with a book you might normally overlook.

I have a deep love/hate relationship with rec writing. I get so excited when I loved a book enough to want everyone to read it. But then I stand there and stare at the little rec card. It sits there and mocks me with it's blank facade. It's a stare down that I never win.

Usually it comes down to one choice, do I want to summarize the book or talk about how I felt about it? Some books are just too hard to summarize. Have you ever tried to explain a book to someone and realized that it sounds ridiculous or it's too complicated when you start talking about it? It's probably best to talk about how you felt. Or if you are so enamored with the main character, talk about them. It's hard to decide sometimes and when a book might not sell you sit there and wonder what else you could write to make it sound more interesting. You wonder if you should focus on something else.

I can't ask the same sort of questions on the rec cards as I can in person. And it's hard knowing that a book can appeal to different people for different reasons and that you can't cover everyone on a card.

Sometimes I love trying to come up with outlandish ways to recommend books. Maggie Stiefvater writes beautiful books. There's something so wonderfully poetic about every single one of her books. There's so much emotion in them without sacrificing the characters, her delightfully elaborate mythology, or her snark. But when people ask which one they should start with I like to ask something like:

"Homicidal faeries, murderous Celtic water horses, heart-wrenching werewolf love, or dead mythical Welsh king?" (I need to come up with a better one for The Raven Boys. No one ever picks that one).

I usually get blank stares in return and hesitant "Horses?"

If you look unsure I elaborate on the titles and then you're stuck listening to me for the next twenty minutes.

The point is, recommending books is hard. My instinct is to give you every book I love and that might not necessarily be right for you. So we ask if you like realism or fantasy. Dystopian or summer romance. It's not the best solution but imagine how uncomfortable we both would be if I asked you "What was the last book you read and loved? How did it make you feel?"

It's a legitimate but awkward question.

We ask the neutral (hopefully...) questions in person and leave our recommendation cards to suggest anything potentially emotional.

So, take a second to read the recommendations, it's possible a bookseller wept great tears of frustration over one. Or, if you want me to come up with a ridiculous series of questions like my Maggie Stiefvater set come find me (and give me a second to put one together) and I'll happily oblige. We work hard to make ourselves and our opinions available even when we're not in the store in person (the break room couch isn't big enough for everyone to sleep there at one time).

If writing a recommendation is this hard I can't even imagine what trying to write the summary for a book jacket is like.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Oh, the rants we will rant!

When the sun doesn't shine, and the snow turns to slosh,
and our boots fill with cold, muddy water, then gosh,
oh, the rants we can rant! We have restocking rants,
and rants about shrinkwrap, and rants about pants.
We rant about Mercury's long retrograde.
We rant at distinctions that publishing's made.
We rant when YA is considered inferior,
rant when the spinner's a pain-in-posterior,
rant when a title excludes girls or boys,
and rant when announcements are drowned out with noise.
We wave our arms jerkily. Speech grows frenetic.
You might say it's nonsense; you might say poetic.
We feel all the feelings and just have to share. 
So laugh all you want, but we rant 'cause we care.

(Dr. Seuss's birthday is March 2, and our display in his honor just went up. I am always willing to rant joyously about how he took the same reading vocabulary that less entertaining books were attempting to teach and created The Cat in the Hat, which taught kids that reading could be fun while also teaching both phonics and sight words through rhyme and repetition. See, there I go.) 

Friday, February 14, 2014

How to Make a Bookseller Fall in Love With You*

It's Valentine's Day. Cards are flying off our racks, harried-looking men are running into our store with bouquets of flowers bought from Trader Joes, and my gentleman caller sent me a box full of Bon Chon chicken (all drumsticks!!!).

Since I'm in the holiday spirit (and no longer ravenous for snacks) I'll dispense some advice for making a bookseller fall in love with you and your book. I hope you didn't think this was about making a bookseller actually fall in love with you, even though I think it would probably involve a lot of food and bookshelves we wouldn't be ashamed to merge with.

Consider us Kept!
1. Tell us we are pretty. I mean, don't tell me that, tell me that the bookstore is pretty. Tell us you like our selection, the recommendations we write, how pretty our colors are. We like compliments, and you'll see us blush a bit when you give us props for our spatial reasoning skills. 

2. Give us chocolates. We talk about food on a daily basis. It is not surprising to see booksellers pop their heads into the break room with a hopeful look that asks, "Are there snacks?" You haven't seen heartbreak until you see a hungry, snack-less bookseller who really wants a potato chip. 

James Scott (The Kept) left us a kind note with chocolates. We liked him already, but we like him even more now. "I've worked at a bookstore before," he said. "I know about snacks."  

FirstSecond can do no wrong.
3. Send us free books. I'll be honest--I love everything FirstSecond puts out and I would have been talking about these books anyway, but since I have it now? My poor co-workers will be hearing about this book for months. (By the way, we're having an event with Box Brown for his illustrated bio of Andre the Giant on 7/1!)

4. Be nice. I've put books at the forefront of my to-read list because an author was nice to me.

5. Write a good book.  This is really the most integral part of having us fall in love with you, and after you've created a work that we're bound to get excited over, send us chocolates.

*Note: This is not a ploy to get more chocolates.  Noooooooooo

Monday, February 10, 2014

Does That Book Really Need a Tagline?


Hokay! My three new exciting books...

1. Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi
The first one is such a fun take on the dystopian and Rossi just gets better.

2. 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket
This little picture book reminds me of being young and picking one building to shove all of my mystery and curiosity on. That one building that you know nothing about but is probably unremarkable. That building where weird things must happen. Wait...did I say when I was young?

3. Seven Wild Sisters by Charles De Lint
I'm pretty much a sucker for anything with fairies. Or anything that says 'Modern Fairy Tale.'

I have distinct memories of standing in the book aisle of Giant Eagle (it's a grocery store, I'm from Ohio) with my friend reading taglines from romance novels out loud in terribly overdramatic voices. I mean, really, they're just begging for it. It's not so much romance novels that I feel any need to mock, it's taglines.

Generally speaking, I really dislike taglines on books. A good tagline is a rare commodity and usually I think a book would be better off without one. I'd like to think that there's some profound marketing reason for a tagline that I know nothing about. But if that is the case why don't more "literary fiction" books have taglines? For the most part they seem to reserved for YA and romance novels but not all of either of these books have taglines either (note: I am sitting at the info desk and have just spotted a bargain book with the tagline: "Every family has secrets. Every murder has a motive" (Lackberg's The Lost Boy) so maybe I should check out mystery books for taglines as well. I'm willing to bet there are some good ones).

So, perhaps it's just the decision of someone or another who has a deep unabiding love for taglines. To each there own.

But I thought I would share with you some YA section taglines. Some are really terrible. Some are okay...ish. Others are bordering on decent. I've read some of these books and haven't others.

"Bound Together. Worlds Apart."
"Free From Bonds. But Not Each Other."

-Unspoken and Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan

Initial reaction to tagline: Wait...what? Worlds? Space? What?

I really love these books. Love them. The taglines are terrible.

"Something Dark and Evil Has Awakened."
-Diviners by Libba Bray

Initial reaction: Delightfully terrible b-movie horror.

This one isn't as bad but it does make me think of a movie trailer. Alternately, the UK edition says: "Bright Lights are Hiding Dark Secrets" which I like more. This is another book that I really love and it makes sense for the book but I don't think it does the creepiness justice.


"Her Mission Was To Kill Him. Her Destiny Was To Love Him."
-Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Initial Reaction: Bad High Fantasy Assassin Love Triangle.

Admittedly, I haven't read this one yet but I am a sucker for retellings (this one is Beauty and the Beast) and Clarissa really liked it so I imagine I'll read it sooner rather than later.


"The End is Only the Beginning."
-Kill Order by James Dashner

Initial Reaction: Dystopian revenge story (also Smashing Pumpkins).

I will say this, this is a good tagline for a prequel. But I also sort of hear this deep booming voice and a battle-torn kid holding a knife and vowing to overturn the system.


"How far would you go to Cross it?"
The Line by Terri Hall

Initial Reaction: Hidden walled sanctuary. Crossing it (with a capital 'C' no less) is strictly forbidden.

The tagline is a little over dramatic and just so obvious. But I want still want to read it because it's supposed to be awesome.


"In the darkest places, even love is deadly."
The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd

Initial Reaction: Honestly, this one intrigues me. Though it does sound a little more romance based than I might prefer.

It's not a bad tagline but it does make it sound like there's going to be a really dramatic forbidden romance.


"Can You Know the Truth if Your Mind Has Been Wiped?"
-Slated by Teri Terry

Initial Reaction: ...probably not?

I find it really interesting that I've seen a different one for this one that says "...if Your Memory Has Been Erased?" instead. Oddly I find the first one more high tech sounding and it makes me lean toward a sci-fi sort of feel. The second seems to leave it more vague.


"The Weather Finally Broke...For Good."
-Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Initial Reaction: Natural Disaster Action Movie

The tagline really isn't bad and I've heard such remarkable things about this book. Also, I'm instantly intrigued based on the fact that it doesn't mention romance.


"Iron. Ice. A Love Doomed From The Start."
The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

Initial Reaction: Someone has to die. If the love is really doomed someone has to die.

No one dies. Not in this one but I still really love the book. It's such a cool idea I wish the tagline hadn't focused so much on the romance.


"A Million Ways to Die. One Way to Live."
-Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Initial Reaction: I have mixed reactions to the two statements. There's such threat in the first but the second falls a little flat.

I really like this series. Some of the taglines for the later books lean toward the relationship aspects but I appreciate that this one didn't. This isn't a dystopian that fits into the Hunger Games mold as much.

I had more on my example list but I'll stop here. Taglines can make such an impact on how someone perceives a book. I think I prefer when they're on the back (you know, big font across the top). I have never seen a book with a tagline that made me want to pick it up. I think more often than not they make me hesitate.

Why do we keep using them? Can a story really be summed up in one short, catchy statement like that? It doesn't seem like it.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Before they were cool: Newbery, Caldecott, and other ALA Youth Media Award winners

When Journey came in, Clarissa showed it to everyone. "Look! Isn't this gorgeous? GAAAAAAAAH!" (Possibly not her exact words, but a reasonable approximation, as anyone who's seen Clarissa get excited about a book can attest.) (Now it has a Caldecott Honor.)


When Doll Bones came in, longtime Holly Black fan Amy wrote a recommendation and started handselling. If the sales figures are any indication, she's helped the book reach quite a few of Brookline's young readers. (Now it has a Newbery Honor.)

When Flora and Ulysses came in, I had every intention of popularizing the phrase "holy unanticipated occurrences!" That didn't really happen, but I did have fun selling the book. (Now it has the Newbery Medal.)

When Locomotive came in, Paul was all, "I love that book!" I imagine that his kids were, too. (Now it has the Caldecott Medal.)

When a gaggle of YA authors including Rainbow Rowell and David Levithan came to the store, a gaggle of us - the kids' team plus Kat plus Anna plus possibly whoever I'm forgetting - not only stayed for the event, we waited until the loooong signing line was gone so we could get our own books signed, chat with the authors, and sample the pumpkin mocha breve muffins one fan had left for Rainbow. (Now Eleanor and Park has a Printz Honor, and Two Boys Kissing has a Stonewall Honor.)

The full list of winners, announced last Monday, is here. There were less familiar books that went immediately onto our to-read lists, and there were books left off that we'll lovingly recommend anyway. (Like this one.) But it's nice to be able to brag a little: we (and, in many cases, our customers) liked these books before they were cool.