Sunday, June 3, 2012

Guest Blogger #4 - Tim Gaffney

It’s an honor to guest blog on Lloyd’s site.  A little intimidating, too.  Lloyd reads more than I do – all right he reads more than anyone I know.  All right, he reads more than anyone anyone knows.  But I like books, and bookstores.  So I’m going to call this the anti-blog:  no reviews, no recommendations, no lists.  Instead, a short anti-blog extolling the joys of aimlessly wandering around a bookstore.

It started for me when Walden Pond closed, leaving Los Gatos with no bookstore.  Barnes and Noble fortunately opened its first bookstore on Steven’s Creek Boulevard a little later.  Kristy and I would drive up on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon (yes, even back then we had no life) and aimlessly wander around.  We’d have some coffee and chocolate cake, and wander some more.  We actually looked forward to doing this.  There were days when we’d come home with four or five books – most of the time we knew nothing about them (finding out about books wasn’t as easy back then).

Barnes and Noble was a terrific find, and we spent a lot of time there.  But my favorite bookstores now are smaller, and independent.  Bookshop Santa Cruz and Book Passage in the Ferry Building are terrific.  They’re  smaller, and seem to take more care in the selection of books they have on hand.  And, very important to someone as easily seduced as I am, they tend to shelve a lot of books with the covers facing out.  I’m easily influenced by covers, so maybe that’s why I like those two bookstores so much.

So, when you don’t know what you’re looking for, how do you find it?  Glad you asked.  For me, it starts with the cover.  I know, that’s the thing they designed specifically to get me to pick the book up.  I don’t seem to care.  Give me a book with a moody, misty, foggy cover and I’ll pick it up.  I bought Snow Falling on Cedars that way, and was quite happy I did.  The cover of Lying Awake was atmospheric, and that book is one of my favorites of all time.  Oddly enough, the cover of The Samurai’s Garden was fairly straightforward, but it was enough to make me buy it, and I enjoyed being in Gail Tsukiyama’s world for several of her books.

Then comes the blurb on the back.  Again, I know – it was written to seduce me.  I’m easily seduced.  My favorite story is watching Kristy pick up Bellwether and burst out laughing.  The blurb had a line to the effect that “James came to help, bringing with him a herd of sheep”.  She couldn’t help herself; she bought it, and enjoyed it thoroughly.  I did too.

Another thing that happens in aimless wandering is a book just keeps appearing in your hand.  That happened in Bookshop Santa Cruz in the Science Fiction section.  It’s near the bathroom, so I always end up there.  I kept picking up Ysabel.  I still don’t know why, but I’m so glad I took it home.  And as a result, I enjoyed many of the worlds Guy Kay created in other books.  This is also the way Nightwatch and The Last Chinese Chef came into the house.

There are drawbacks to the aimless wandering method.  I picked up Out Stealing Horses – a moody cover and a nice blurb -- three or four times before I brought it home.  It wasn’t very good.  Others have been too bad to mention.  Some I couldn’t finish, and one I couldn’t even get through the first chapter.  But the ones that worked make the failures worth it.

All in all, the joys of aimlessly wandering around a bookstore are hard to beat.  Go there next time, instead of taking Lloyd’s recommendation.  He won’t mind.  As long as you read.

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