One of the perks about working in a bookshop is the freebies and treats. The publishing houses go out of their way to make us, the booksellers, like them, their books and their authors. The logic is simple – it is easier to sell a book that you have heard of than one you have no knowledge of. Easiest of all: to sell a book that you love.
The “I loved it” argument beats everything in my line of work. I can’t count how many times customers have asked me what my opinion about a book is. A lot of customers don’t seem to take into account whether I have anything in common with them, or whether our tastes overlap at all. If I can say “I really liked this book” in a plausible manner, they buy it.
I try to be honest when asked how I feel about a book – only once during my eight years behind the counter in a bookshop have I lied about having read a book I hadn’t (and it was because the customer was being really difficult, on the day before Christmas. I just wanted to go home). A few days ago I actually adviced a customer not to buy a book she was considering, because I had read it and didn’t like it (though I did sell her another book, one that I liked, by the same author). So I guess my customers are getting the truth (though occasionally slightly glossed, if it is nearing on the holidays and I am fed up), but again – only the truth about my perception of a book. I try, though, to get a feel for what kind of books they normally like to read before I admit to liking anything at all. I want to know what I am dealing with, after all.
In this connection lists such as “if you liked X, you might also like Y” come in handy. If someone says they loved the Stieg Larsson books, I might try to sell them a Håkan Nesser or Jo Nesbø (though most of my customers have already read all of Nesbø’s books – he is very popular here). If a customer tells me he liked Jan Guillou’s Crusades-trilogy, I’d recommend checking out Ildefonso Falcones’ Cathedral of the Sea. And if they like Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Shadow of the Wind I first ask them to consider the prequel, The Angel’s Game, and then I suggest People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks.
I have not read all of the above books. Some of them I read, and I didn’t like them very much. Some of them I liked, but “loved” would be too strong a term. In my opinion whether or not I liked them should be irrelevant to the customer – whether I think he or she will like them is not. Because some people simply are not satisfied with this, I also have a list of books I do love. However, I reserve the right to recommend them only to people I believe will also love them.