Curation, Bookstores and Open-mindedness

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

bookstores, indie bookstores, curation, discovery, apps, recommendationEvery day, it seems, there are more and more ways to find that next great book to read. As book publishing has firmly planted itself in the digital realm, we now have websites and apps galore that feature recommendation engines, and even allow us to track what other people are reading and follow suit based on our similar tastes or level of admiration.

And given the prevalence and convenience of ebooks, it’s easier than ever to quickly find out what to read next, buy it just a second later and start reading it right then and there, even on the same device on which it was bought.

Depending on the user, though, some of these discovery modes can end up mostly reflecting one’s set of tastes rather than broadening it. To be fair, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. If one knows what she likes to read and doesn’t want to read anything else, that’s her prerogative. And in this way, she can set up her own private echo chamber that continuously delivers more and more books of the same genre, tone, style and substance.

But, at least for this reader, that method of discovery is not satisfying. I find authors, moods and subjects I enjoy, sure, but I also like to have my mind blown every now and then. I like to find a cover that looks intriguing for the strangest of reasons, I like to see an author’s name pop up I’ve never heard of before, and I like, every now and then, to take a leap of faith.

Enter the independent bookstore.

I’m lucky: I live in New York City and I have access to The Strand. I enter its 18 miles of books about once a week—not always with the intention of buying a book, but often just to see what’s filling up the display tables.

On a recent trip, I saw a table marked “The Future of Fiction,” featuring maybe two dozen reasonably priced paperbacks—many of which I’d never heard of. I picked up each, read the description, took out my phone to do some shoddy research, and ended up buying two.

That table was expertly curated by someone I’ve never met and don’t know a thing about. I don’t what her tastes or agenda were; I had no preconceived notions. I was just open to whatever looked intriguing.

To be sure, for this type of reader, the Internet can certainly offer a similar experience, but the bookstore offers it in a more immediate way. I wasn’t merely clicking my way through a bunch of covers; I was instead moving through aisles, physically picking up books, scanning around to see what other people were looking at, comparing prices, looking at books’ thickness, and generally taking in the whole experience.

Now, despite running a website called Digital Book World, I do the bulk of my book reading offline. It’s just what works for me. And to that end, the bookstore—an expertly curated one at that—is the ideal laboratory for my mind to observe.

(I realize that my preferred method of book discovery does not, for the most part, take into account self-published books, which are published primarily digitally.)

So I’m curious: how do you discover new books to read? Do you use an app? Do you stick with Amazon? Or do you cruise your local indie bookstore, too?

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