December is a time of list making, be it goals for the upcoming year, holiday gift recipients, or to-dos-before-the-kids-come-home. At Island Books, a good portion of our time is spent assisting others who need to check off their lists. “I need the perfect book for my sports-obsessed father-in-law, my three-year-old niece, and my hairdresser,” are the kinds of requests booksellers everywhere shuffle around hastily trying to fulfill. Not to mention the gift-wrapping, shipping, and armchair psychology that’s inevitably involved. This month is a fun and busy time, filled with energy and good cheer.
After we finish tending to everyone else’s lists, there are a few lists of our own that require attention. I’m referring to those oh-so-tough Best of the Year lists. Everyone does them, from Publishers Weekly to the New York Times Book Review to People magazine. So, we ponder how to set our list apart.
Many of our choices will have to do with what our local customers enjoyed this year. Then there are the books that moved us as individuals, because book preferences are filtered as much through personal taste as they are through widespread reception. What makes our list different–and any indie bookstore’s for that matter–than the larger publications is that most of our customers know us personally.
The locals who frequent our store can look at last year’s Best of list and make a pretty accurate assumption that Marni and Miriam advocated for Gone Girl, or that Lori and Nancy campaigned for The Fault in Our Stars. Many probably remember asking for a recommendation in the store and having Roger point them towards Where’d You Go, Bernadette. We don’t read everything, but we’d never put something on our Best of list that at least some of us haven’t personally read and loved.
So what will be on this year’s list? Well, we’re pondering the options. Unlike 2012, which had a plethora of titles that jumped immediately to mind, 2013 brought us quieter books. The contenders include Jhumpa Lahiri’s beautifully written novel, The Lowland, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s latest massive tome of presidential history, The Bully Pulpit, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s surprising and unique The Signature of All Things.
And yet, we nitpick. Do we have to like the characters in The Lowland to love the book? Because liking them was challenging. Is the font choice for The Bully Pulpit a bit too small and inaccessible? And will all readers be as fascinated by moss as the protagonist in The Signature of All Things?
These are the questions we’ll be considering as we weigh our options. After all, it’s our good names that stand behind the list when we see familiar as well as new faces in the store. We’ll do our best to choose wisely.
With that said, I’ll sign off by adding that the staff at Island Books wishes all our friends over at NW Book Lovers a happy holiday season. As you make your list and check it twice (whatever list that may be), we’ll be doing the same.
Miriam Landis is a web monkey for Island Books on Mercer Island, WA, where she also writes for the store’s journal, Message in a Bottle. She joined the publishing industry in 2004 with an internship at Simon & Schuster and worked as an assistant editor at Hyperion and a site merchandiser on the Amazon books team. A former professional ballerina, she’s the author of two novels about ballet, Girl in Motion, and the sequel, Breaking Pointe and the mother of twins.