I love going into independent bookstores. Not only do the employees read a lot of books, but they also like to recommend the books they enjoy. While walking through the shelves, I read the shelf talkers (the notes that recommend a book and have the employee's name on it) like I would read plaques in a museum. I love how some readers are as creative as the books they recommend, while others compare one author to another as in: if you like Jim Harrison, you'll enjoy Terry Persun, too. (Sorry about being self-serving, but I actually saw this once and it's one of my favorite quotes.)
Shelf talkers have been used for years, particularly in bookstores where the employees work there so that they can feed their own reading habits. The chain stores don't tend to recommend books unless they are paid for by the big publishers and, therefore, have a place in the front of the store. I worry that online bookstores have taken away some of the wandering that goes on in a bricks and mortar store. I know that I used to go into sections I wouldn't normally visit just to read the shelf talkers. Sometimes, I'd get so intrigued that I'd buy a book from the section that I normally wouldn't have searched for. I miss that.
I note that online bookstores do try to help customers make their next selection by letting them know what books had been bought together, such as "people who bought ____ also bought ___", but that's not quite the same as a shelf talker. And book reviews seldom help a lot either, in my opinion. Most of the people doing reviews are unfamiliar with the nuances of reviewing a book (perhaps they should study the reviews in Publishers Weekly or Library Journal), or they rate a book based solely on their own likes and dislikes and not on the quality or lack of quality of the writing. Hell, give me the plot and character details and all I need to know is if the person can write coherently. I'll make my own decision from there, thank you. A case in point: I've actually read where a reviewer gave a bad review to a thriller novel by starting out saying, "I usually only read romance, but a friend recommended..." The review went on to say that the person didn't like the concept of the novel, but said nothing about the writing quality, characters, or plot. Not helpful. Besides, why review a book you don't like, anyway? Is a bad review aimed at hurting an author from getting sales?
So, my suggestion is for Twitter and Facebook users, as well as book reviewers: start treating your comments like shelf talkers. This would keep reviews to a few sentences, it would force reviewers to get to the heart of the novel, and it would provide just enough information for another reader to make a decision whether to open the book and read a few pages or not. And, think about what my grandmother used to say: "If you can't say something nice, say nothing at all."
Since independent bookstores are slowly disappearing, let's all start our own form of shelf talkers. Let's help our fellow readers out. Recommend books you enjoy.
To see more from Terry visit his Website or follow him on Twitter.