One of the things about working the bookshop is you start having tunnel vision about books. This is what we sell. This is how we sell it. That’s why I spend a lot of my free time at other bookstores, asking them what works, looking at their windows, their rec shelves, their impulse tables, and their gift items.
I checked in with my friend Sue at Lake Forest Book Store, since I haven’t been there in over a year. Most of all, I wanted to know what was on their power table. There were actually some extra power tables, as they also had some of the area school summer reading programs in piles. It was nice to see that their featured book in the window was Chris Cleave's Gold.
The one title I noticed that was still there from my last visit was Julie Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge. It’s possible that book will never move. And many of the titles were the same as what is on our new paperback tables. But there were differences. And since we got the idea to put Kathleen Grissom’s Kitchen House up front based on their suggestion, and we sold a lot of copies when we did. Maybe one of these suggestions will also take off for us. Now some of these books are on our front table too, but I just haven’t been paying attention.
The first book Sue mentioned was To be Sung Underwater, by Tom McNeal (Back Bay Books)l. I remember Goodnight Nebraska getting reads years ago. This is about a forty-something woman, a film editor, who returns home to the Plains and meets her first love. Yes, she’s married. I wondered if this was The Bridges of Madison County redux, not quite sure about that plot either, but despite the Nebraska for Iowa substitution, sounded familiar. “Much gritter,” I was told. “More about her internal life.” And what’s wrong with a redux anyway? How many plots are there in the world? I told you this once already. The answer is five.
So then Sue hands me Park Lane, by Frances Osborne (Vintage). It’s about two women from different social classes who connect in the World War I era. A young woman comes to London to be a secretary, but winds up the other’s maid. “Didn’t you sell The Bolter like crazy? We sold hundreds.” It’s Out of Africa, but with more sex. We’re selling it off Osborne’s rep from her previous book, plus the Downton Abbey fans are connecting with it.
I was surprised to see a pile of Mason’s Retreat, by Christopher Tilghman (Picador) in their table. Isn’t that an old book? “Yes, but it’s a prequel to “The Right Hand Shore.” The book’s been in several editions but this one is updated , one, to correct some errors, and the other to more smoothly connect it to the new novel. One of the errors involves an incorrect train correction and we wouldn’t want anyone trying to duplicate the ride 75 years after the book takes place and becoming stranded. I’ve been told Mason’s Retreat is just lovely, and Lake Forest is selling it like crazy.
And finally she encourages me to take a second look at The Arrivals, by Meg Mitchell Moore (Reagan Arthur). It’s about a couple of empty nesters whose nest fills up as one by one the children come home to roost. First their daughter comes back with children but no husband. Then their son arrives with his pregnant spouse; it’s supposedly just for a short time but they wind up staying the summer. Their remaining daughter is about to have a financial meltdown, so you know where she’ll wind up. Sue and her fellow booksellers told me there are other books of this sort (reminds me of the Joshua Henkin a bit) but this one really rings true.
We chatted about some new books, and we both agreed there’s some great novels out there right now. Sue is a huge fan both of Gone Girl and The Age of Miracles, and after we discussed a few more that she’s hot on, I wondered what it would be like if I chose not to read books that were unsellable. I’m not naming any names, but sometimes gravitate to the underdog’s underdog. Tossing that thought from my head, I took some other notes, especially concerning a boxed notecard line from Vermont that Sue swears by, only to walk around for a bit before heading back to Boswell. Boy, that Marshall Field’s was really small.