Where Do You Head For in a Bookstore?

(Taken from here.)

As kind of a side discussion to the conversation about literary/genre, realism/fabulism occurring downriver here (some interesting stuff), the subject of migratory patterns in bookstores has come up, fueled by a comment from Emily Leverett. Here’s what I said:

“I tend to follow this pattern, in part because I already get so many books of a genre nature for review…(1) thorough investigation of the trade paper and hardcover new book tables, (2) followed by the new mysteries section, (3) followed by totally perverse quest to see if my Predator book is still offered in the SF/F mass markets, (4) followed by skimming through graphic novels and manga, (5) followed by new offerings in history, (6) followed by quick scan of the SF/fantasy section, (7) followed by the discounted books section, (8) followed by travel books, (9) and ending up in magazines.”

What about you? What’s your path through a general bookstore? Why? And what do you avoid?

29 comments on “Where Do You Head For in a Bookstore?

  1. This is partially because of the layout of the Borders I frequent: 1st Sci-Fi/Fantasy, generally scanning the large/irregular/hardcover books and skipping trade paperbacks. 2nd Literature/Fiction (Yeah, they put those together so that Anthony Burgess and Jimmy Buffet can rub shoulders), 3rd History, 4th Horror (quick scan, small section), 5th (if I stick around) Mythology/Folklore or Conspiracy/Occult Speculation.

  2. LOL! Burgess and Buffet–but of course.

  3. Clint says:

    If we are talking bricks and mortar big stores:
    Where I go while visiting…
    1. Coffee (frappo-latte with stale cinnamon rolls and extra shots of syrup)
    2. magazines (whilst waiting for coffee)
    3. the Fantasy/SF section then art books
    4. Litrachoor
    5. special interest (gardening, ghosts, folklore, other research)
    6. Movies/Music
    7a. Computer to search for obscure title. Hunt down bookseller to find out how to use computer.
    7b. Kids books (to let the young uns run off some steam)
    8. into debt upon checkout (no, I don’t want to sign up for your rewards programs)

    While in a mom and pop shop:
    1. Through the jingle-jangle front door
    2. past the sleeping cat
    3. exchange small talk with person reading behind counter.
    4. start at one end of the store and work my way through.
    5. pet the cat
    6. Sit down and thumb through an old copy of something I hadn’t seen in years
    7. Pay for my books. Throw in a nifty bookmark.
    8. Take one last deep breath of a truly righteous bookbuying experience.
    9. Jingle-jangle of door bells upon exit.

  4. Ennis Drake says:

    My local Books-a-Million sucks. I actually looked for South China Sea the other day, Jeff. They didn’t have it. They didn’t have much of anything. I tried to find Mark Teppo’s Lightbreaker. No. Mieville’s Perdido Street Station. No. They had a tiny Warren Ellis trade paperback. Forget the title. Wanted it. $12.99. No. Well, not that day, anyway. Conrad Williams. No. Ligotti. No. I was pretty much fucked.

    However, I did stumble upon Alan Campbell’s Scar Night and Iron Angel. It’s turned out promising so far. So, bonus, I guess. And I bought Gaiman’s Anansi Boys. Both out of the Literature/Fiction section. The Campbell surprised me by being there.

    So, I go for the Lit/Fiction first. Then SF/Fantasy. No fucking Horror section. Bastards. And then hit up the comics and RPG’s.

  5. Joe says:

    For me its usually to my desk :-) When not in own bookstore though usually have look around Scottish literature and history sections, world history then rake through the SF&F and graphic novels, if they have them. Tend to ignore the front tables if its a chain as they’re always piles of the same bloody stuff publishers paid them to pile high. If I have time I like to re-arrange the books in the Mind Body and Spirit section into the rough outline of Alan Moore’s head.

    Of course there is a more depressing answer to this question for we bibliophiles and it is the one I’m afraid rather a lot of the public would give – where do you go first in a bookstore. Oh, the coffee shop…

  6. Matt Peckham says:

    1. New fiction, 2. New non-fiction, 3. Graphic novels, manga, and my totally perverse quest to find all three copies of Junji Ito’s Uzumaki on one shelf simultaneously, 4. Magazines, and wrap.

    I generally avoid the SF/Fantasy section in most bookstores, since they’re increasingly just a single row or two of literate stuff, with the other five devoted to Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Torchwood, Warhammer, etc.

    And then you have The Norrington Room at Blackwells in Oxford, a couple miles up the street from where I currently reside (largest single room selling books in the world, according to Guinness). http://is.gd/1qqwh I venture in here (tantamount to voluntarily feeding hundred dollar bills through a paper shredder) and I’ll just get lost and sort of marinate in the book smell and mind-boggling ambience.

  7. JM says:

    I’m actually curious about customer stats from Borders. I’ve always wondered if they set it up differently based on demographic/occupational info that they get from the area when opening a new store. I used to live in an area with two major big name universities and prevalent high-tech industry in the area and it always seemed that the selection for not only tech-related but other academic books was much better. The one where I’m at currently, in a strictly working-class town has very little in the way of diversity of books and, as of right now, a lot of its shelves have been empty for ‘inventory changes’ or some such for the past two months. Err, moving on to the topic at hand….

    At Borders, will check out the $4 bargain books in cardboard boxes laying out on the tables despite knowing there is little chance of a quality buy in there but still holding out a bit of hope. Swift perusal of new hardcover / trade paper sf/f then some browsing. The ‘Literature’ section is usually next door and I’ll start from there and work my way back, usual with a few minutes in the lit crit section reading interviews with writer’s or some other essays and making my way to History. From there, I usually check to see if there are any new titles in the area I studied in university (E. Europe / Russia). After that I’ll walk over to Travel, browse the travel lit, thumb through some guidebooks, then make my way back to ‘Culture Studies’ (Sociology, etc). I typically only go to Borders if I’ve checked online and they have a book in stock I’m considering buying but want to look through before purchasing (esp if not featured well with Amazon’s Search Inside). I’ll also go so far to admit that I will browse and then go and buy from Amazon. I usually buy a bulk order to take advantage of Free Shipping, etc. When I have access to a good library again that will be my main book browsing / use source.

    Used bookstores or indie shops take up a bit more time as I like serendipity take me to titles and sections. I’m also more willing to buy from them than from Borders.


  8. Steven Klotz says:

    1) Fondle the blank journals
    2) Search through the prominent displays of new hardcovers to see if the genre stuff I know was just released is getting any exposure (usually no)
    3) drool over the watch catalogs in the magazine section
    4) Look through the literature magazines to see if there are any new players … grab something I’ve never read from
    5) Set up camp in the SFF section
    6) Venture out to the rest of the bookstore following random trains of thought …
    7) Check on significant other
    8) goto (5)

  9. Peter says:

    don’t you bother looking at the poetry section? it’s the first place i go, and you can normally tell whether a place is decent or not depending on who/what they stock. next, i’d probably look through whatever’s been strategically laid out, normally reading the little shop assistant blurbs tagged onto the covers because it’s always nice to know who’s been keeping the books company.

    then, a full procession through whatever graphic novel, comic, manga, art book type deal they’ve got going on, devouring as much of that great stuff as i can in the shop. the frenzy probably culminates when i lay my eyes on something by ed gorey. i normally end with a rummage around ‘genre’ stuff, but only because that work is rarely genre anymore. it’s not that i don’t love fantasy, but the most random and intricate speculative fiction seems to have difficulty being sold in any other section. i might round things off staring longingly at a bloated henry james novel, and wondering why i’ll probably never finish it (i’m thinking of ‘the golden bowl’).

    sometimes i’ll spend a little time in whatever melitensia section they’ve got (that’s history entirely concerned with malta, which is where i’m from) because there’s always something odd and scholarly hidden amongst the touristy mush. most of my recent purchases have been literary crit, but since finishing the course i’m buying more and more anthologies – dipping into things is where i’m at right now. although i’ve had an intense pratchett craving that really should be indulged sometime soon this summer.

  10. Michael says:

    Depending on how the store is set up I generally hit the magazines or the New Hardcovers section first. Then it’s on to Sci-Fi/Fantasy. If there’s an Art section that’s next and then I usually end up in the music section last.

    … if it’s a mom and pop/indie bookstore all bets are off. It really depends on how it’s layed out. Also, being that I manage a Comic Book shop my OCD usually kicks in and I start organizing/straightening things.

  11. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    JM upstream is not McDermott.

    I do look at the poetry section–but not every time I walk into the bookstore.

    It’s also true I find the genre section a kind of dead zone for me. I don’t usually buy anything from it. Most of what I want is in the general fiction section, even though it’s fantastical. But, again, I get books for review to the point that anything in the genre section I would want has already been sent to me.

  12. “Most of what I want is in the general fiction section, even though it’s fantastical.”

    Yus! I find this to be more and more the case.

  13. JM says:

    Jeff: JM upstream is not McDermott.


    Those wily Vermontians seem to have brought POD to a bookstore: http://bit.ly/35xvte

    Things really are getting interesting in the publishing world….

  14. Terry Weyna says:

    My peregrinations seem to vary greatly from store to store. At a used bookstore, I will almost always stop first to look at what came through the door most recently. Then on to SF/F/H — in some used bookstores, this will take quite some time, while at others, it’s a search completed in almost a moment (either because there is no such fiction or because it is small and horribly deficient both). Mysteries next, usually with the same procedure. Then to specialty sections of books about books (so many used bookstores have these) and literary criticism/essays (which are often intermingled). Then fiction/literature. If there’s any time left, biographies next, and then any other sort of nonfiction at random.

    At B&N, it’s the new tables, the remainders, upstairs to the new fiction, the new mysteries, the new SF/F/H and the new YA.

    At Powell’s, it’s time to settle in. Horror first, then SF/F, then mysteries. This takes about four hours, and it’s time to stop for lunch at their convenient cafe. Then literary criticism/essays, then literature. Onward to books on gastronomy, true crime/law, history, and whatever else tickles my fancy. Usually a day is not quite enough — and don’t forget, there’s more than one Powell’s in Portland, and they do have different collections.

    At The Strand in New York, it’s straight to the review copies. I usually spend the entire time available there (about four hours, sometimes more).

    At The Tattered Cover, I do it floor by floor, but I probably spend the most time on the floor that’s all remainders. And I finish on the top floor for an exquisite meal.

    I love bookstores.

  15. Ram says:

    In whatever bookstore I go to (here in the Philippines – National Bookstore, Powerbooks or Fully-Booked … no Borders or Barnes & Noble here) I always make a bee-line towards the Fantasy & Sci-Fi section first, then Philippine publications (books by local authors, mixed genre), and finally the magazines. On several occasions I add the “New Arrivals” section as a fourth stop. And ever since my daughter was born, the children’s section has become a detour for me as well.

    Bargain bookstore (used books store) here don’t categorize their books by genre. They classify them via hardcover books, paperback books, magazines, and children’s books. When in a bargain bookstore I just hit the paperback books bins looking for treasures before walking over to the shelves where the hardcovers are.

  16. Spencer says:

    Allowing for some variation depending on layout, my path in bookstores is like this: poetry > fiction / literature > sff / horror > comics > philosophy > cultural studies > politics > humor > art. Those are usually the only sections of interest to me, although I’ll often skip one if there isn’t anything I’m looking for in particular.

  17. Humbert Humbert says:

    The Nabokov section. I could spend the rest of my life dissecting his works. The Original of Laura will be released Nov. 17. You prolly already know this. Peace.

  18. Larry says:

    Depending on the store, I go: 1) Foreign Language, 2) featured selections (if I go to Davis-Kidd, that is), 3) SF/F, 4) General Fiction, 5) Poetry, 6) Magazines, 7) Porn.

    7) is added purely to have many peoples’ searches represented here :P

  19. Dave says:

    Assuming I don’t have family tapping their feet in agitation, arms crossed, waiting for me to get a clue on how much time I’ve spent wandering around with that look of discovery painted across my face; I’ll generally take this approach:
    1) The bargain sections: looking for good deals on books I’ve thought about getting before, or books I might never have considered, but might now be worth a try.
    2) The new books: For some reason, I rarely buy anything from these sections, but it’s good to see what’s being promoted.
    3) Sci-Fi/Fantasy: Of course.
    4) Fiction/Literature: I’ve begun buying more from this section over the last few years, but a lot of it has speculative/fantastic influences as well.
    5) Writing: I counted the number of books on writing that I’ve purchased over the years and I currently have over sixty. It’s kind of a hobby. And yes, Jeff, I’ll buy yours when it comes out, even though I got the pdf version from you. (By the way, did you see that you made Nancy Kress feel guilty?)
    6) History
    7) Philosophy/Religion
    8) Science
    9) Psychology

    Areas I avoid at all costs: Romance, Cookbooks

  20. Xelgaex says:

    On entering in order to get to anything else you have to walk past the things being promoted, these are usually interesting, but I probably wouldn’t seek them out if they weren’t presented that way. Next I usually head to the SF/F or Comics sections depending on what I’m in the mood for and also which store I’m in. Sometimes I don’t go anywhere else, but if I’m staying to browse for a while, I’ll head for General Fiction or History next. Sometimes I’ll go to Children’s and Teen’s to look at what’s new. Occasionally I’ll take a look at the Philosophy section. Science too if I’m sticking around. I generally avoid the New Age and Religion sections. Books-a-Million has a discount section that I never find anything interesting in so generally don’t bother with.

    I buy few books though and generally know I’m going to buy it before I arrive so I don’t always just browse. Most of my reading comes from the library. Though I generally know what I’m going to get before I go there too.

  21. Jen says:

    1. If I’m in Romania:
    a) if the bookstore has an English section, I go to English genre books, English non-genre, then translated genre, translated everything else;
    b) if the bookstore doesn’t have an English section, I just start at the door and work my way in.

    2. If I’m in Foreign:
    a) if the bookstore has an English section, I do the happy dance and *squee* (length of squee depending on the size of the English shelf), then browse in the same order as above. If I know the language well-enough to read it, I might buy some local SF/F, but usually I just look at the covers etc.
    b) if the bookstore doesn’t have an English section, I start at the genre section (look at covers etc.) then go see the rest.

  22. Neddal says:

    Big box: Random skim of the bargain books. Quick skim of the magazines (music + photography) which generally depresses me as most N. American magazine writing about music is terrible. Then – General Fiction – Cultural Studies (that nebulous section where history, art, pop culture, etc… hook up), Art/Performing Arts – Travel.

    In smaller bookstores I tend to be pretty random, I’ll check out whatever catches my eye.

    Someone mentioned something about the layout of Borders? I dunno about Borders, but in the Cdn. equivalent (Chapters) the layout is set up to keep people moving through the store. To the point where sections have a habit of moving every few months. It’s supposed to increase circulation w/in the store, but it’s mostly annoying.

  23. Joe Sherry says:

    Assuming my local B&N.

    1. Browse through the front tables. I’m always tempted by the new paperback nonfictions and whatever is considered the popular “literary” fiction and the nonfictions. Make a hard left to the…

    2. SF/F. I’m not sure what I’m looking for here and I’m generally aware of everything in the section. I just like browsing and see if my favorite authors are actually on the shelf. Circle around the edges and head into…

    3. General Lit. This isn’t discovery orientated because I’m not keeping up with the lit scene right now. Sometimes I’m looking to buy, sometimes not. If I am, I’m looking for a name to catch my eye – a name I’ve heard of but possibly not read. Finish at the beginning of the alphabet and turn left to…

    4. Nonfiction. Browse biographies and general Non Fiction. I’ve got a soft spot for American History stuff, particularly biographies of the Presidents. Does Robert Caro have the fourth Lyndon Johnson Bio out yet? I should really read volumes 2 and 3. Has Atkinson written the follow up to An Army At Dawn? I should read that, too. Anything just sound awesome? Maybe I should buy it. I have this internal conversation with myself every time I’m in that section.

    5. Minnesota books. I don’t spend much time here, but I like to see if there’s anything worth looking at.

    6. Heading out of the store and i check the discounted books. Found hardcovers of Heart-Shaped Box and Hunter’s Run recently.

    Now – if I go to Uncle Hugo’s (local SFF bookstore), I spend most of my time gradually working through the used books. Spend very little time w/ the new books.

  24. Hellbound Heart says:

    i absolutely LOVE browsing through book shops but it doesn’t happen very much at all these days, between a daughter that keeps asking me if i’ve finished and mum, come and have a look at this and a husband who isn’t terribly interested in books at all (i love him for his body!)….i tend to go look at the fantasy, s-f, horror sections, might go and have a browse amongst the more high-profile books, look at the discounted books and end up with a bag of books to take home that i know will take me bloody ages to read……..i loathe books by authors like grisham, y’ know, political conspiracies, cia and all that shit….also hate girly-girl/romance books, like a good psycho thriller as well……

    peace and love….

  25. Jeff P says:

    New stuff (especially mass market paperbacks, tho all those seem to be paranormal romance/urban fantasy these days); horror, the incredible shrinking section, rarely finding anything new or interesting; SF; Fiction/Literature; Comics/Graphic Novels; Remainders; Magazines. Occasionally I’ll check the art books.

  26. teaver says:

    I usually look for the nearest poor soul working there to drive them to despair with my wish list. I just don’t move my meat to a bookstore without a reason.

    If I do, that means I’m with my 3,5-year old and she rules me. Sometimes she takes me to sections I would never enter – some kind of Scientific or Technical – especially if she spots bacteria or cars on covers. But we always head to the Fantasy/ Sci-Fi, Horror and then Comics/ Graphic Novels. I usually leave her there with some Spiderman in her hands to check the nearby Sociology or Fiction. I sometimes go with her to Foreign Languages, but she gets bored too quickly, unless there is a well stocked Children Literature section (with all the sound stories and musical books, that she loves for ten minutes).

    I rarely go to Action/ Mistery. I leave it to my husband. The end of the route is Magazines and DVDs.

  27. Cameron Pierce says:

    In Powell’s, I tend to browse like this:

    1. Small Press, then a quick walk by the philosophy section (and maybe stopping to see if they have an E.M. Cioran book I haven’t read).
    2. Horror
    3. SF/F
    4. General Lit. and Poetry (right by the small press section)
    5. New releases and/or clearance books
    X. I usually try to make my way around the art and film books.

    Whatever author or subject fixations I have at the moment greatly impacts where I spend the most time.

  28. Chris Sommer says:

    I have little to contribute outside of pointing out that the stairway forms a sad Cthulhu face.

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