Even though I came up with the idea for this post and I’m sitting here writing it, I still feel like it’s silly. I mean, who cares how I book shop? It feels like such an indulgent thing to talk about and expect people to actually read. But I’ve noticed that there’s a very specific way to how I end up buying books, and I thought it might be fun to talk about, so here we are!
My favorite thing about book shopping is that it, inevitably, feels like an accident every single time. Rarely do I go into a bookstore intending to buy a massive stack of books. It should come as no surprise, after all these years, that it’s far and few between that I’ll only come out with a couple. (It just happened the other day, though the circumstances were ripe for it because I didn’t want to be in that particular store for personal reasons, and I was buying a holiday gift, so even though I did grab something for myself, I was in and out in under five minutes.) But I still manage to feel a bit of shock when I get up to the register, and there I am, with eight books on the counter, wondering how the hell it happened.
Those memes about blacking out in a bookstore and coming to in the parking lot to find you’re carrying two full bags? THAT’S ME! Despite that, though, there is a method to the madness, and though it’s taken me a bit to realize it, I think it’s kind of interesting how it all happens.
Generally, I read young adult, and so, that’s almost always where I gravitate toward first. I’ve really been trying, in the last year or so, to convince myself to hit the adult & middle grade section first, but adult is just so daunting, and I usually know what I want out of middle grade, so I’ll just skip over real quick to grab the two or three that I’ve been eyeing and ignore the adult section altogether. And I know young adult was probably daunting when I first started seriously buying books with the intention to read them (that sounds ridiculous, but I seriously used to just buy books and put them on my shelf, and they never saw the light of day again), and that I’ve had to slowly figure out my way through the young adult section, but it’s so exhausting thinking of beginning that process with adult, so I just head straight up the stairs every time.
When I’m in Maine, I usually go to BAM, and the YA section is literally at the top of the stairs. Like, you step onto the second floor, and HELLO! It’s staring you down, and it’s not even a thing to attempt resisting, and I just make a beeline for the stacks. They blend their contemporary & fantasy together, too, which I think has advantages and disadvantages. I shop at B&N in Burlington, MA when I’m at home, and there’s a clear divide in their contemporary & fantasy, and I definitely do like that better, but I’ll always gravitate toward fantasy before contemporary, and BAM makes it so that I’m looking at both equally.
The actual choosing of books is a bit chaotic. If it’s got an interesting title, it comes off the shelf. There’s a meme somewhere that makes fun of the “a ____ of ____ and ____”, but y’all, that formula works on me. Every time, I’m going to pick it up. Inevitably, I’m going to have a book called that someday because I will not be able to resist, and I know exactly which book it will be. There are a few other things about titles that’ll get me to, though. The MC’s name? Check. The word witches? Double check. Something even remotely about space? CHECKITY CHECK CHECK. Shadows or ash or bones? Lollllll. And I skim real fast through the books on the shelves (I’ve got so many to get through!) that if it doesn’t jump out, it’s not coming off, but it isn’t only the title that gets me.
IT’S ME! THE MAGPIE! This is an old picture of me, and I still haven’t bought the book I’m holding, but it remains one of my favorite that Erin’s ever taken of me because look! Natural habitat!
Not gonna lie, if the spine is pretty, I’m taking the book down to peruse it further. Screw the title, if there’s something fancy happening on the spine, I won’t even look at the title. Brocade? Oh, heck yes. Snakes or flowers from the cover? Yup, thanks. Literally anything gold? Hi, it’s me, your friendly neighborhood magpie. A pretty spine is almost as good as a pretty cover.
And that’s a great segue way because, after titles & spines, it’s time to decide if I actually want to look at the book. This is going to be a big ole callout to myself, and I apologize to all authors that I’m completely bypassing, I am the worst, and I recognize that. But if the cover has real life people on it, I’m just gonna–yeah, hard pass. I know that’s horrible. I know I should give it a fair shake. And I know it’s stereotyping a lot of books to say that I generally don’t like the inside of books with real life people on the covers, but it’s almost always true, and I just–don’t anymore. There are some exceptions, of course. Most of the time, if it’s more than just the person (all I can think of is Madeleine Roux right now), I’ll keep looking, but if it’s just staged real people, I’m gonna slide that back onto the shelf real quick.
On the flip side, I love artist renditions of MCs. That’s probably hypocritical because they’re practically the same thing, but artwork is just such a big gimme gimme vibe buried in my Livejournal & Tumblr days that I’m always going to look at it. Much like spines, I’m also a sucker for anything gold, I love space themes, I’ll go hard for snakes or anything even remotely dark or shadowy, and I’ll fall for the crows/ravens/vultures trap every damn time. E sim, we shouldn’t judge books by their covers, blah blah blah, I have an entire massive section of books to look through (it’s six shelves in BAM, and, like, eighty-five in B&N, I swear to Satan), and I can’t be there all day, so we gotta have some kind of quick system in place.
Tudo bem, the title/spine/cover test has been passed, time to read the summary. I’m really bad at both summaries and trailers. When Erin sends me trailers for movies to see if I want to watch it, I probably get through about 30 seconds to a minute, if we’re really lucky, before I make a decision. I forget I’m supposed to be reading a summary about a paragraph in. And it’s not even that I’m lazy, it’s that I know. I’ve been existing in this exhausted body for 28 years, and I know if I’m going to like something or not. Realistically, all anyone had to show me of the Charlie Hunnam King Arthur film was Excalibur in slow motion, and I would’ve watched it. Realistically, all you’ve got do is the “a soldier, a thief, a witch, a prince” formula, and I barely even read the first sentence.
But I can tell, pretty quickly, if I’m going to like something. Granted, I’m still wrong sometimes, and I really wish I’d get into the habit of reading the first few pages before I buy the book because there are some summaries that sound great and actual books that are just–não, obrigado, but alas. I am a fickle creature, and summaries are something I forget about as soon as I read because I like going into both books and films totally blind.
There are always going to be things, too, that are going to turn me off immediately. I’d like to note, too, that these are all personal preferences, and not every book has to be for every person! I don’t like reading mono-theological books. I have a complicated relationship with religion, and unless you’ve got a pantheon, I’m not interested. I really can’t get past names that are obviously pulled out of a fantasy name generator. I was over stories that revolved around a character turning sixteen a long time ago. (I recognize that YA is geared toward that age, and I am not, in the slightest, implying that books should be about older characters. I simply don’t like books that revolve around a sixteenth birthday, or coming into powers at the now you’re an adult theme. I’m all for sixteen-year-old MCs in YA, I just don’t like reading books that revolve around age, no matter what age you are. I wouldn’t read a book whose plot was based around someone’s thirtieth birthday, either.) I’m not a huge chosen one fan, I’m a hard sell on straight romances in contemporary, and I don’t particularly like she was not like the other girls because ew.
At the same time, I’ve got some surefire wins. Prince in hiding? Yup. A rowdy band of unlikely friends coming together to reluctantly save royalty? Always. Literally any time a girl & a sword are in the near vicinity of each other? Absolutely. Lore poured into the summary that I don’t understand yet, but am so curious about? It’s coming with me. I’ll always be drawn to books set in space, anything with dragons, and punk ass MCs. I like Latin characters, queer romances, and baking.
And, if I’m really not sure if I’ll like it or not, I’ll hand it over to Erin, who is with me 90% of the time while book shopping, and she’ll convince me either way.
There are things I need to get better at. I start to lose steam around the third shelf, and I really need to stop focusing all my efforts on the first half of the alphabet. Maybe I should skip from first shelf to last, then second to fifth or something. Make myself bounce between them. I definitely need to read the first page or two before adding it to the stack because that’d save me a headache from those books that look and sound amazing, but end up being a three star read. I don’t think I’ll get over the exhausted sigh of whyyyyyyy when I see first person in fantasy, but I should probably start paying attention to Goodreads more often to see if something is part of a series or if there’s been some issues raised about the book. I need to notice the author of a book before I start reading it weeks after purchasing so I can make sure I’m buying diversely. And I should probably not going book shopping for a bit right now because my TBR shelves are about to burst. But, all in all, I don’t think it’s a horrible way to shop, and I think I probably do a lot of similar things as other people.
This ended up being way longer than I expected, and now I really want to go buy some books, so I’m going to distract myself with something else!
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