Yesterday I went to the library to pick up some books that I needed and while I was there I got talking to a librarian. She was helping me order in a book and we just got chatting. We started out discussing my thesis topic and then moved into young adult literature, and before we knew it we were deep in conversation about all our favourite books. We talked about genres, authors, best sellers, audio books, big books, small books, relatively unknown books, all sorts of books. We talked for an hour, until I realised that my parking was about to run out and I had to sprint back to my car, having not even gotten the books I had gone in there to get.
Luckily, all was well. I got back to my car on time and came out fine-less. But the real victory here was that I (inadvertently) got to do some Odyssey publicity. While chatting away to this woman I had never met before she asked me if I knew any books that her and her kids might like. And I did! Because we’d really gotten to know each other in that hour, I knew exactly what she was looking for, the genre, the age group, the themes, the writing style, basically exactly what would appeal to her and her kids. I told her to go out and get the first two books of a series Odyssey is publishing by Cindy Cipriano, called The Circle and The Choice (they’re wonderful kids fantasy, you can find them here… http://odysseybooks.com.au/portfolio-category/childrens-books/)
And it was a great feeling being able to do that, to suggest something I thought her and her family were really going to enjoy. I got a little bit too excited and wrote down the titles in an only just legible hand. It was like telling someone about your favourite restaurant, except better because books stay with you way longer than even the greatest pizza. As Carrie Bradshaw famously said, literature will feed you more than any food ever could, well she said Vogue, but you get the idea.
This interaction lead me to ponder all the different ways that people find new books to read. As part of a small press it’s always something to think about – how are people going to know about our books? How are we going to get books out there?
I considered how I normally find books to read. In my case, and I’m sure I’m not alone, there just always seems to be a constant pile waiting. And while you to take books from it, it never seems to get any smaller…. The piles are just never-ending.
But I think the most common ways most people find books to read is through sites like Goodreads, blogs, vlogs, catalogues, bookshops, advertisements and social media. Basically, online.
But I think there’s another big, really important one that we often seem to forget, the old word of mouth. Old fashioned, human recommendation. Someone just saying to you, “Hey, I liked this book, I think you might too!” There’s something uniquely convincing about someone who knows you, telling you to read a book. Books are a deeply personal thing and only people close to you are really going to be able to know what you’ll like (or a librarian that you’ve only known for an hour but really seemed to bond with…)
Thinking about all this made me remember an essay I read recently by Margaret Mackey called “Northern Lights and Northern Readers: Background knowledge, Affect Linking, and Literary Understanding.” It looks at how the reading of novels is so deeply affected by experience, perspective and memories. It argues that how we interpret what we read is entirely constructed by who we are, that while readers may get similar things out of books it is never entirely the same. Essentially, books are a completely individual experience.
It makes sense then that the most important, the most moving, books I’ve ever read have been recommended by the people in my life who are close to me and understand me, like for example Far From the Madding Crowd, recommended by my Dad, or The Secret History, recommended by my lovely friend Alice. A lot of the books that I’ve read because someone told me I would enjoy it, have quite literally changed my life. These books have completely rewritten the way I think about the world.
Perhaps it was also that these books were recommended to me at the right time, when I was in the right place in my life to enjoy them, when the people around me could see that I was ready for them. If I’d stumbled upon them at the wrong time maybe they wouldn’t have had nearly as much of an impact.
Books are most enjoyable when they fit a certain time of life or experience – they can help you through a breakup or whisk you through a summer holiday. And that’s something people are great at – at taking that random life information and helping craft a suggestion from it, information like: “I’m going to Barbados, I need a holiday book but nothing to holiday-y, if you know what I mean, I don’t want any romance right now, I don’t like crime, I need strong independent female characters, and I hate talking animals… any suggestions?”
Yeah, just try typing that into Google.
What I realised after pondering all this, is how invaluable personal book recommendations are. And moreover, that whenever we recommend a book to someone else, whether it’s a holiday read or some dense literary fiction, we’re thinking about who they are, what they want and how they would experience it. We’re thinking about their tastes, preferences, previous reads, moods, all these different things about them to find a book to match them. It’s a much more complicated and personal process than any internet site could hope to replicate. And in the process, we all become what I have named ‘Reader Consultants’, those who consult their clients about what books would suit them best.
I mean, why isn’t Reader Consultancy a thing? (It’s definitely not, I checked). But it should be! Much more exciting than financial planning, is the new, bibliophilic planning. Sounds fancy, huh! If Odyssey is looking for a new Reader Consultant, my hand is way up.
Hi, I’m Kate, Odyssey Intern and Reader Consultant. It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?