How do you shop for books in a bookstore?

Jason emails me:

I would be interested to read on your blog about how you would shop for books in Daunt (or any good bookstore, but Daunt since you mentioned it). Is there method to your browsing/do you ask for recommendations, etc. Is there a person there who you particularly rate? It sounds basic but I think readers would be interested in knowing your approach. I live in London and too often walk out of a bookstore with books I have already heard about rather than taking a chance on something new.

Daunt has about seven or eight main “pressure points” near the very front of the store, and they are easy to find, and that is where you should look for your books. My key advice for Daunt is simply to have a basket, and/or an arrangement with the front desk that you can rest your accumulating pile of books there while you continue to look for more.

The basement floor of Daunt is organized by country, rather than by genre of book, and each visit you should scour at least two country sections for new (or older) items of interest.  Overall I find that “by country” is a better to organize the back titles than what any other bookstore does.  So, for instance, Chinese fiction is put next to Chinese history, not next to other fiction.

What makes the Marylebone branch of Daunt the best bookstore is how they organize the store, and the quality of selections they put on the front tables, not the overall number of titles.

Making random purchases of featured fiction, if it looks vaguely intelligent, is not crazy in Daunt, yet it would be in literally any American bookstore, or even in Waterstone’s in London (another superb store, go to the Piccadilly branch, but use it for history and biography not fiction).

If you are in a Barnes and Noble, mostly focus on finding the “new non-fiction” section, which these days is increasingly difficult to come across and ever-smaller.

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TC is right, non-fiction is harder to find than fiction, since the latter is more profitable. My hot Filipina is an avid reader of romance novels, which to me seem all the same (then again she would say the same thing about my chess books)

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Cheap international travel was taken for granted until 4 months ago. Patience, patience. There are a lot of people whose livelihoods depend on it coming back as quickly as possible, so it will.

With new restrictions being imposed by the UK concerning Spain, or Australia severely cutting back incoming flights, it appears that the pace of resuming international travel will be uneven.

Whether the recent proposed German model of mandatory testing and quarantining for any passengers coming from countries with a high rate of infection gains traction is open to also question.

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"It would be bad if that happened. Therefore it can't happen."

There are also lots of people whose livelihoods depend on the price of oil remaining high. We've seen this film before. Spoiler alert: they have to go get other jobs.

Brick-and-mortar retail is dying too. On-shore manufacturing jobs died a while ago. Many other examples. But you don't cling to vain hope that those will return because it doesn't affect you personally.

I had a dream and a voice said that this pandemic and all the shutdown BS will end on Nov 4th.

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Ah Daunts, sigh.
I have never walked out of there without at least 3 books
I have also had one relationship begin there, and another end.

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I like second-hand bookshops. If you find a good book it's a great pleasure. If your buy disappoints you just give it to a charity shop. This is cheaper than adopting the same habits with new books.

What I really want to know is how to stop a house just filling up with books.

Floor: a bookshelf of last resort. (--which, as a cousin of mine once demonstrated, could also apply to "Staircase".)

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Ask yourself after you are done with a book if you see yourself reading it or referring to it again. If not, dispose of it. And also take up videogaming as a hobby.

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Kindling. As in going digital. Although technically, consigning hoarded paper products to the fireplace will also do the trick.

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I'm a comic (non-manga) fan. The only ways to go are specialized stores, the Internet and travel to France, go to a Fnac.

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I haven't read a physical book in 15 years. All ebooks or audiobooks.

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I have a different method.

I read MR to see what books are mentioned positively and then I order them on amazon.com ...

Me too. And readers here recommend good books too.

I’ve got Mart Ridley’s book on innovation on its way.

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It’s terribly disappointing to walk into Barnes & Noble these days looking for good non-fiction, only to find they’re turning the store into a toy store.

For me, I generally get books that are greater than 50 years old, of which you can find a decent variety at Barnes and Noble. Not great, but ok. For newer things I generally stick to the library because the probability it will be bad is so high I don't want to waste money on it.

I should say that I pretty much exclusively read non fiction. The only fiction I've read in the last five years is Ivanhoe, Crime and Punishment, and Some Sienkiewicz ( of Quo Vadis fame.)

I will say that of new non fiction Andrew Roberts Churchill book was very good and I did buy it.

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In the old days, one browsed for books at the bookstore because that's where the books were. Nowadays, of course, one can scour the internet for book recommendations, descriptions, and excerpts. I would be interested in hearing TC's perspective as an economist on what function bookstores fulfill for browsing that is not as well fulfilled by the internet. Is there, after all, value in judging a book by its (physical, non-digital) cover?

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I'm waiting for a wistful post on the bygone age of Christina Foyle's Dickensian management of Foyles.

I don't know about the other sections, but the computer section had one of everything and was organized by published. And descending the stairs to the poorly lit basement to pay cash through a cubby hole was part of the experience.

There was an advert on the bus stop in front of the shop that said: "Foyled again? Try Dillons" which was across the road. Foyles was maddening and its staff weren't particularly friendly. Daunt's real strength is its people -- they're well read and, I'm told, are paid relatively well and tend to stick around for many years.

Dillons was better than Waterstones and Daunt best of all. Interestingly, James Daunt was hired away from his own small chain (founded in the mid-1990s -- you'd think it had been around for centuries) to rescue Waterstones and is now running Barnes and Noble. He still own Daunt but I think has left it to be run by trusted employees. More power to him.

Hatchards on Picadilly is often forgotten, but has real charm. Heffers in Cambridge used to be in the top leagues, maybe still is -- I haven't been in a while. Blackwells I've never been that fond of.

I forgot to mention, my favourite bookstore of all is a tiny second hand shop in Montreal called The Word. A good 50% of the writers I still love, I discovered on its shelves.

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What's the most number of books you've read in one book shop outing?

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Use the llibrary instead; if you're feeling guilty or altruistic donate what you save to your library. Yes, book stores are a good place to "meet someone," but if you meet them in a library instead think of how hot that would be.

Of course, our area's libraries right now are still doing just curbside service -- are bookstores letting people in to browse now like in the good old 20-teens?

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I type in the name of author or book at either Alibris or Amazon.
When I buy from my local bookstore, I just ask for the book I came to buy.

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The method of Daunt basement reminds me of the organization at NE Mobile Bookfair. Everything is shelved first by publisher, second by author. I found that to be excellent for a) finding a specific book. There is almost no search time, and it's either on the shelf or not in stock. b) random undirected browsing. There is a good correlation between publisher and editorial selection quality.

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I don't know what Daunts is but I agree with dearieme that a bookstore that only sells new-printed books doesn't tempt me, though I understand that some people get the heebie-jeebies from used things.

And though I worked at a pretty good new bookstore once upon a time. I was fifteen or sixteen and my best friend that year was a middle-aged man, a laid-off petroleum geologist who was also working there, though in his case out of desperation. He sometimes alluded to his having been "run out of several towns" over the course of his career and though if true a possible reason obviously suggested itself, he said, impishly, it was for "fouling pristine waters." He was fond of writing to national publications - a troll avant la lettre, you might say - urging schemes like reversing the course of the Mississippi, and claimed that National Review had recently fallen for one. Anyhoo, he liked to give me books, in which he wrote rather pithy, sometimes enigmatic, sometimes sincere-seeming inscriptions, and he snootily refused to buy books from our own bland, flourescent-lit, comfy-chairless, but actually very well-stocked store, preferring instead to get them from Deterings, the cool bookshop of the day, which placed its own little bookplate in the books; or from used bookshops.

He was bitter when I took for a boyfriend another employee, a boy in hailing distance of my own age, whom he dismissed as callow (correct) and ridiculed for betraying a belief during lunch break that the seas of the moon were actual seas. It was the sort of ignorance he easily forgave in me - though maybe he suspected my education had also been deficient because he had given me a copy of "The Physical Universe" [No more quasar-hunting for me! Allegedly, xxxxx].

My town had one unusual bookstore - by virtue of being run by an actual, quite-successful author - called, presumably with affectionate, deliberately-weak wit, "Book'd Up". In the commanding Houston Heights, as I recall. I went in a couple times, out of something like my own desperation, in those pre-internet years, to get near to somebody, anybody, leading a life of the mind, and to master the use of needless phrases like "avant la lettre" - (I had once used my monthly employee gift certificate to buy a shiny-new "trade paperback" copy of "Horseman, Pass By" at my own bookstore, having noticed on the jacket copy that it inspired "Hud," which I had seen on the late movie. The book did not make much impression on me, but we had elaborately-fanned out stacks of "Lonesome Dove" selling like hotcakes that year, and it was amusing to think the writer was still manning the till, alone in his shabby used-bookshop across town).

It occurs to me I haven't browsed a bookstore once, since those days.

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I've always found it a challenge to browse in a bookstore, as it's always difficult to know in which of its many overlapping categories to look for whatever one is looking for.

At one time this was known as "the Yellow Pages problem," as that venerable book of advertising could be a challenge to navigate if one did not already know what category to look at.

Presumably library card catalogs once presented similar problems, most of which can be (and some of which have been) solved with relational-database lookup.

And, yes, many of the surviving bookstores might be characterized as "ABB" stores, as in "we stock greeting cards, plush toys, candy boxes, candles, and assorted gift-y stuff and, oh, yes, we also have a few books."

I do miss browsing in used-books stores, however as they seemed to offer a stronger element of serendipity than new-books stores. That, and as the price was lower I'd be more inclined to take a chance on the purchase. Alas, most of these seem to exist only online now.

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The old Tower Books in Seattle, open until midnight, was wonderful to browse, with obscure and interesting books here and there on the shelves. That is, until they created a computerized inventory that ended up removing the hidden treasures. A little knowledge...

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No love for Hatchards?

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London bibliophile here - made two trips to Daunt since lockdown. Agree with Tyler, but Gower Street is much better Waterstones. It's by the university union building, great academic and non-academic stock, and often interesting & obscure remainders. Also a second hand selection.
Daunt is mostly organised by country, over all three floors of the grander part of the building. They also publish a little now, and have superb staff who make great recommendations (and they do judge your purchases). Charing Cross Rd still has a few good used bookstores: Any Amount of Books is excellent, with a lot of stock turnover.

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I've never been to Daunt. The front table experience sounds vaguely reminiscent to my experiences at Community Bookstore in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Not a big place but fantastic curation.

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I have always been intrigued by history, and I have done extensive research in the area of religion. I wrote Bipolar Winter to share possible explanations for various events in the history of Christianity. As you read my novel, you may have questions about the historical content. Who were the popes or other religious leaders mentioned in my book? Which events are historically accurate? I provide supporting information on my blog so you can reach your own conclusions.

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