Despite our booksellers sharing varying degrees of a defining trait—the love of and belief in the importance of books—it is rare that any one book engenders consensus and fervor among any critical mass of the staff. We all love books, but we don’t all love the same books.
This state has been upended a bit recently, as many of us at The Booksellers at Laurelwood have gone wild over Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy (of which the third and final installment, Acceptance, was released last week). These books are maybe a little sci-fi, kiiiiinda horror and very much a mystery, but not at all a mystery mystery. They are all these genres, yet truly none of them. They are compelling, weird, unsettling and beautiful in their way. They are a strange grunting and clicking and rustling you hear in a dark, wooded area, the “what the…?” you get that raises your hairs, puckers your flesh and makes you think—“is it possible?”—you still hear its movements hours later within the comfort of your home.
They’re fantastic. A half dozen Booksellers agree. There is real excitement here about Vandermeer’s trilogy.
But, as great as they are, even the biggest fans among us know they are not for everyone. Truthfully, they aren’t for most. They challenge. They unnerve. They don’t always explain. They instill existential dread. They are sui generis.
Those for whom the book is right, however, will be blown away. To wit: a Bookseller recommended it to a regular customer who he thought would appreciate it. The customer left with the first book, returned later that night for the second installment and, having devoured them both in one day, returned the following day to get the last book in the trilogy.
This is what independent bookstores offer that big box chains and the online behemoth that sells books as commodities don’t: we don’t care about just putting a book in your hands. We care about putting the right book in your hands. We listen to your wants and understand the particular tastes of our customers and do our best to hand-curate an inventory that meets your needs and maintains the ability to surprise and delight you with something you didn’t expect.
Over the last decade, the U.S. has seen an explosion of independent brewers and bakers and artisanal craftsmakers creating and selling niche products to meet niche tastes. The healthy growth among independent bookstores over the last three years can’t fully be tied to the same craft movement. Catering to the needs of our particular local customer base is what we’ve always tried to do.
Maybe customer appreciation is growing for what is special and unique about independent bookstores: that we understand that you, in your reading tastes, are special and unique. In that way, we’ve always been stocking and selecting for and selling to a niche market: the niche market of you.