When Jack and I visited other bookstores a couple years back on our “Booking Down the Road Trip,” we picked up lots of good ideas from other owners. These included suspending signs from the ceiling to let customers know what was on the shelf below.
Thing is, over the years, one’s sense of humor tends to develop a … caustic approach to identification of book genres. Ask any bookstore owner–although they might obfuscate or distract. It’s not that we’re proud of our subversive humor. We just need it to stay alive in the book business.
So here are a few of the headings under which Jack and I have recently filed books:
FLEAS AND FANGS (Paranormal Romances) – With my friend Melissa, who runs the bookstore Parkville Bookworm in Maryland, I am waiting for the day someone invents a gorgeous, do-gooding zombie in a tux. If he sparkled in the moonlight that raised him from the dead, well, that might be cool, too. One is tempted to speculate on the romantic possibilities of undeadness, but that quickly devolves into a non-family-friendly sexual pun war, so we’ll stop now.
LATTE LIT – This is actually a term coming into vogue as a replacement for “Chick Lit.” It refers to sophisticated good reads of a novel nature. In our shop, we had a section called “Other Times, Other Places,” where I put Historic Fiction and also books featuring protagonists in or from other countries. (Think Robin Maxwell meets Jhumpa Lahiri.) Keeping these outside general fiction lets people who enjoy “Hiss-fit”–as a cynical friend of mine once called Phillipa Gregory and friends–browse without interruption.
GUYS WITH BIG GUNS – Every bookseller goes through this crisis: do thrillers go in mysteries, horror, or war fiction? After moving the political thrillers (read: Vince Flynn and Dale Brown) between war and mystery six or seven times, and trying to keep Ken Follett away from Stephen King, we finally created a new room in our bookstore called “The Mancave.” Here we put thrillers that have to do with politics or war, and the Westerns. They seem to get along well, especially after that movie “Cowboys and Aliens.” Go by, mad world.
HUNKS AND HORSES – This is the feminine end of Westerns – the Linda Lael Millers and Janelle Taylors. The funny part is, if we cross the gender divide and put Longarm in Hunks and Horses, Cassie Edwards in Guys with Big Guns, and the covers are neutral (as with some library editions) men and women will buy “the wrong” Westerns. Proof that tenderness and strength belong to both genders and both genres. :]
CLASSICS – Not an unusual sign, but in a fit of pique one day I grabbed the ladder, crawled up it, and scrawled with a sharpie on the laminated sign “because we liked it.” This is the preemptive strike answer to that question every bookstore employee has been asked: Why is [insert title here] in Classics? We’ve heard this most recently about James Baldwin’s books, and Little Women. (Children’s, apparently.)
So there it is – the secret snarkiness of bookstore owners, revealed on the walls and hanging from the ceilings. I’d love to hear from shop managers and shoppers alike, about signs or shelves you’ve seen.