National Book Critic Circle award nominations.
Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Why aren't librarians allowed to love books?

When I worked in the public library I was frustrated by many things. Mainly, I'll admit, by the rudeness* of the general public, which remains the number-one reason I am still relieved not to be working a public-service desk job right now (although I'm sure I'll have to go back to one sometime, and will just be damn glad if I'm able to get one). But a slightly more esoteric annoyance I had with the system was how librarians are often told (in library school, or in training) that to be good "readers' advisors"--people who help readers find things they might enjoy reading--they must focus solely on what the reader wants. "It's not about you," we librarians are told, "Readers' Advisory is not about pushing your opinions on readers."

Well, okay. I get it. When you're helping a reader find something to read it is of course vital that you focus on their interests. Likewise, if someone is, say, a Jodi Picoult or Nicholas Sparks reader, it is probably nicest if the librarian doesn't say (although they might be dying to): "So, you like hack authors, huh?"

But at the same time, I think that attitude does everyone a vast misservice. It hurts librarians, who are made to feel they can't speak about any books too enthustiastically--that they cannot "recommend," they must only ever "suggest," and strive never to allow their own opinions a part in the conversation. And I think eventually it hurts readers--who might be looking for, not only some assistance, but also a good book conversation with someone who also loves reading--not someone who is desperately trying not to have any opinions on any books whatsoever during the encounter.

Now, all of that is a very long-winded way to say I loved, absolutely loved, a little book I checked out at the end of last year titled Read This!: Handpicked Favorites from America's Indie Bookstores.** God love independent booksellers. They don't dick around with any "don't bring your own opinions or loves" edicts. This book consists of twenty-five indie bestsellers' lists of their favorite 50 books--each chapter provides some information on the bookstore where the contributor works, the list, some paragraphs about a few of the titles listed more specifically, and a short q-and-a about bookstores and readers with the contributor. And they don't list their 50 best-selling titles, or 50 "sure bets" (a term which always annoys the shit out of me, since I figure my sure bet is bound to be someone else's can't stand)--they list their 50 FAVORITES. It's awesome. Straightforward and very, very pleasing. I read it a chapter at a time last month, always at bedtime, and it was a very satisfying and settling read.

The short interviews with the booksellers were almost my favorite part; and the following is my favorite response to the question "Who is your most trusted source for book recommendations?" (by bookseller Emma Straub): "There are reviewers I trust, and friends I trust, and booksellers I trust. Really, my problem is that I have too many smart people recommending books to me all the time. My backlog is so enormous that often by the time I actually read a book, I've forgotten who told me they loved it or which newspaper gave it a rave. Then it's just up to me and the book to see if we can get along." (p. 16.)

Look at those words: Trust. Recommending. Smart. Love. Now THOSE are the words you should always bring to talking with other readers. So join me in the revolution, librarians: get rid of that wishy-washy word "suggest" once and for all.

*Not to mention general scariness and sometimes flat-out violence.

**If you buy it new the royalties go to the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE).