All the news in bookselling and librarianship the last few years has been about "book discoverability." Not a real complicated concept; basically, how do readers discover books?
Publishers are interested in this topic because, even though they are business people, the business of books is such that you can never be sure which book is going to be the next one to explode. So they want to know how to help people discover books that they want to buy. And of course librarians want to understand the topic for a related, but less mercenary, reason: they want to help people discover books they enjoy, often based on conversations with them about books they enjoyed in the past (and why they enjoyed them). That's what we call "readers' advisory." And of course readers have a vested interest in book discoverability, because all they want to do is constantly discover books that they will love, with no stinkers in the bunch to slow them down.
I love thinking about book discoverability because I can't for the life of me figure out how to stop discovering great books. Right now there are--wait, I'll go check--97 items checked out on my library card. A lot of those are books for the CRjrs, but the vast majority are books for me. They're not all the best books, or books that I'll love, but they're all books that I really want to read, and if I would ever get time to actually read them, would probably enjoy.
But today I'd like to talk about my favorite "trick" for discovering great books, and it is simply this: get to know interesting, smart, kind people...and then ask them what they're reading.
A few weeks ago I went to a birthday gathering for a former colleague. I don't get to see him often, but when I do it's always, always, an enjoyable and educational good time. When I asked him, right before we left (I should have asked earlier; I'm always a bit dithery these days, trying to make sure two young boys are properly dressed for the outside, we have all our toys and supplies, and, oh yes, trying to keep said young boys, who are both very antsy and very fast, in my immediate vicinity until we can make our exit), what he was reading, he told me about a book titled Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience.*
So I got it from the library, and it's WONDERFUL. Exactly what the title promises. And it's a thoroughly satisfying book as BOOK--somewhat oversized, but not uncomfortable to hold; heavy, but not too heavy; and it comes with its own ribbon bookmark. It's not actually that text heavy; it's a big book because the letters are often shown in their original form, along with transcripts for easier reading. And they do indeed vary widely: from Queen Elizabeth II to President Eisenhower, including her recipe for drop scones; from a Campbell Soup company executive to Andy Warhol; from a former slave to his previous owner (which is, you've got to read it to believe it, hilarious in the best possible way); Ray Bradbury to a fan; an otherwise un-famous older woman who describes her mastectomy surgery (done in 1855, mind you, without anaesthetic) to her daughter.
A wonderful read; completely engrossing. So a hearty thank you to my friend, for recommending it. Now: get out there this weekend and talk to some good people, and for the love of all that's holy, remember to ask them what they're reading.
*And yes, I think he actually quoted the entire subtitle from memory, so you can see why I love him.