The Girl Who Asked for a Book Review

Why is it often so terribly hard to get staff to write book reviews? A short review can provoke deep performance anxieties.

Do our staff need ‘fluffers’ who help them prepare in advance, working up their self esteem, talking through the (frequently two- four sentence) review going over numerous angles and insights before anything is committed with pen to paper?

At the moment I am told ‘Megan, we don’t have the books I like in stock.’ True, but this has not always been the case. Another one of the deep ironies of bookselling is that the staff are typically wiley, unusual readers, who don’t care for the flavour of Picoult’s moral muffins or the Rubik plot twists of Dan Brown and his criminal counterparts.

For many years working across several bookshops it’s been my observation that requesting a review can spook staff. This isn’t because they don’t read. Quite the opposite. A book after all is a solitary experience, even the teenagers that come in packs to Borders to languish in the forgotten aisles, legs crossed, books ajar, are together and yet alone. We read in private, sharing our enthusiasms afterwards. Yet, recommending a book, putting it into the hands of a new ‘lover’ is one of the great experiences of bookselling. This is probably why so many customers urge me to read their favorites.

In late 2009 a middle aged man swept into store eager to scoop up The Girl who Played with Fire. I handed it to him and he asked the million dollar question: ‘Have you read it?’ I shook my head. ‘No, but everyone keeps telling me too.’ ‘You must,’ He said. ‘You’ll be hooked.’ ‘What is it about this series?’ I asked, hand on hip, ever the skeptic of a new marketing ploy. ‘It’s her, the main character,’ the customer smiled, departing for the tills.

Lisbeth Salander, genius computer hacker – an uninhibited bisexual with a photographic memory and of course, a dragon tattoo. I can see how Lisbeth appeals. Throughout the Millennium Trilogy (I still haven’t read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) she shows great initiative and she never wants to talk about her childhood – no matter how much Blomkvist begs her too. Lisbeth’s a victim but not in her actions or attitude. She’s a best seller but she’s no sell out. I can also imagine if Lisbeth Salander worked in a bookstore she’d be quite resistance to writing a staff review…

by Megan Dunn, Borders Wellington

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3 thoughts on “The Girl Who Asked for a Book Review

  1. When I was working in a bookshop I would have been only too happy to write book reviews. Now I work in a public library and find that writing reviews for our main library blog and our library blog for kids takes up a good percentage of my day. Every now and again I struggle to describe a book and what I thought of it, but overall I love it. I’m always surprised how many people read my reviews and reserve the books I’ve mentioned.

    • (Megan) What can I say, you’re an officer and a gentleman! I personally really enjoy writing and reading staff reviews and I think customers like them too and nothing gives that warm fuzzy glow like watching a customer take your reviewed book up to the tills. My last experience of this was a lovely lady who bought Holidays On Ice by David Sedaris and then came back for more of his work. What impeccable taste…

  2. I’d do reviews of our books if they weren’t boring Textbooks…actually I still probably wouldn’t as I can never read even the books I love fast enough. I do too much. That is the problem here….

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