Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Highly Recommended

Fear, by Charles Simic

Fear passes from man to man
As one leaf passes its shudder
To another.
All at once the whole tree is trembling
And there is no sign of the wind.

There are a number of reasons my Spouse and I buy next to nothing from chain bookstores except under circumstances such as being absolutely unable to find the book somewhere else and/or needing it urgently. One of our motives, of course, is based on the fact that we discovered thrift stores. It is extremely challenging for us to justify spending the price of a meal on a book that can be bought for less than the price of a stamp.
We now, it seems, have another reason to avoid such bookstores. According to an article at,
it would appear that retailers 'promote lists that consumers believe are based on independent assessments of a book’s quality. No authors appear on recommended lists unless their publishers pay the fees, and those refusing to pay may not even find their titles stocked.'
'One publisher claimed yesterday that he had books 'recommended' and positively reviewed in marketing literature by bookshops before the books had even been read.'

What this important article ominously tells us, then, is that the bright and chirpy sticker on the front of a book which says 'unputdownable,' 'riveting,' or 'a page turner,' sadly means little and cannot be trusted. Perhaps these are designed to be self-fulfilling prophesies, suggesting that such works will enter the 'top 100 books' if a sufficient number of people purchase based on those words. It is rather an unpromising thought, that thousands or millions of people could buy a book because they heard a rumour that somebody somewhere was charmed by it. I am put in mind of 'The Emperor's New Clothes' and I have visions of enormous crowds surging forward in pursuit of a book that nobody has read but which is very popular indeed and in fact received 'four stars.'

I for one do not know that the author of such enthusiastic lines actually read the book; nor can I be certain that a book on a particular bestselling list is genuinely popular.
For me, it matters not. I choose, buy, borrow and and read books based purely on my own instinct. Were I to put faith in the 'lists' that we are bombarded with, I most likely would end up burdened with something not at all to my taste. In the same way, I have discovered a number of treasures that, it seems, nobody knows about or wants to read: books that remind me exactly why I love reading and books that I would never know about except for my triumphant rooting around in used bookstores and thrift stores. If we do that, then perhaps fewer books would be consigned to our 'please discard' pile.

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