The browsers of the world have apparently — and however inadvertently — united and forced Amazon into the bricks and mortar bookstore business! Clearly, Amazon’s online search and presentation algorithms never captured what it is browsers are doing when they look up, down and all-around physical shelves and find an unexpected treasure in a most unlikely place.
Now Amazon has to put together an appealing array of worthy books, placed and presented to intrigue the person who puts things together differently.This is very tricky business. Think, for instance, about Steven Johnson, who browsed, developed ideas, then wrote the unusually sourced book,The Ghost Map, or ElmoreLeonard’s researcher, Gregg Sutter, who found, among other useful sources, picture books of Havana that helped with Cuba Libre.
Cathleen Schine’s novel, The Love Letter, is the only novel which addressed knowingly, if briefly, the arrangement of books in a bookstore. As I recall, MILITARY HISTORY was shelved next to POETRY.
It is hard enough to work back to what an author might have browsed through, but it is even harder to capture a browser’s as-yet-unread pile of chosen books. (I wish I had photographs of the summer book piles chosen by the Roseledge Book Regulars from North Carolina.) Many thanks, then, to Mary Karr, who, in a NYTBR interview, let us “see” hers.
“Oh, it’s a wobbly and eccentric pile. A masterful new comic novel by Annie Liontas, “Let Me Explain You,” and a gorgeous epistolary work by Mary-Louise Parker, “Dear Mr. You.” Larissa MacFarquhar’s fascinating “Strangers Drowning,” about saintly types. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “The Beautiful Struggle” and St. Teresa of Avila’s “Interior Castle.” Brooks Haxton’s chronicle of his poker-genius son, “Fading Hearts on the River” — he’s one of my favorite poets, along with Terrance Hayes (“H,ow to Be Drawn”) and Dean Young (“Bender”). Dana Spiotta’s genius “Innocents and Others,” Claudia Rankine’s necessary “Citizen” Ed Frenkel’s “Love and Math,” David Berlinski’s “The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions”; also Lena Dunham’s hilarious and moving “Not That Kind of Girl.” “The Abbey,” by James Martin, S.J. Plus Phil Jackson’s inspiring “Sacred Hoops” got reread for the manuscript on memoir I just turned in. (Hope our Knicks read it!) I’m finding “Go Set a Watchman” way more dangerous than “Mockingbird” for rendering racism from inside an allegedly educated white household — seems truer to the Jim Crow South than the later book’s rose-colored tale of liberal white nobility.”
Holy cow! What a great array of knowns and unknowns! Wouldn’t it be fun to see what nine other books she looked at for each one she chose? (References: The 10 to one figure comes from some old U of Chicago Library research and I have a dimmer memory of someone trying, similarly, to quantify “looked at” vs. “saved” Internet sites, but the study or the studier got bogged down.) All together, this sounds like a tiny starter collection for a very interesting bookstore. Roseledge Books comes to mind.
Hurry up summer.