When I started this blog, I anticipated more of an overlap between my life at the bookstore and this blog. I envisioned helping customers who make the inevitable “I’m looking for a book . . . ” statement. I thought I would help them find that book and then I could come home and blog about it. Well that’s not exactly how this blog works. For starters I generally only work in the store on the weekends. By the time I come home, I’m exhausted and I don’t really write on the weekends. Also, I sit at my computer a day or two later and cannot ever remember any of the requests that customers made. So I’ve tended to go with common ones that booksellers hear frequently, or, as you might have noticed, create hypothetical requests that would elicit a certain book.
Today, I actually remember some real requests from this weekend. woot! A woman came in on Saturday and said she had “a challenging one”. She wanted to buy a graduation gift for someone who was really interested in biology. She looked at me. I looked at her. And then I went over our Best Sellers section and pulled out Letters to a Young Scientist, which I had just happened to have shelved the day before. She was delighted. I was delighted because I love these moments, the moments when I just *know* the exact perfect book for someone. Saturday was a great day at work, because I had another customer who asked about picture books for her five year old. I showed her a few including Tuesday, Handa’s Surprise, and The Seven Silly Eaters, which I’ve recommended here before. She went with The Seven Silly Eaters and then came back to me and asked, “do you know adult books, too?”. Well, I have a few favorites, but I’m the first to admit that I am not caught up on new releases, so I said, ‘sort of, but I know the back wall better.” The back wall houses our 5th to 7th grade books and our YA section. “Are you interested in a good crossover book?” I asked. To my delight, she said yes, and went home with Grave Mercy.
Which brings me to today’s recommendation. Booksellers often recommend books that they haven’t read. I haven’t read Letters to a Young Scientist, but I have read enough of the cover to know that it would be a good fit. Sometimes we get it wrong though, or we misinterpret a customer’s request. We risk a little when we recommend books we don’t know, and often I feel a certain anxiety when I finally do read something I’ve recommended. I know that I’ll know all the times I got it wrong. Today’s request is from a customer who was Christmas shopping for her niece this past December. I had just finished reading The Raven Boys and decided to recommend The Scorpio Races, also by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic, $9.99). I had heard it was good. The Raven Boys was good. I figured it was a solid bet. The customer was reluctant, but I explained what I knew about the story and that Stiefvater was a great writer. She bought the book. I have often wondered over the past few months what that teenage girl, who was active and likes adventure, thought of the book. Did she even read it? Did she like it? Did she love it? I don’t know why that particular interaction has stayed with me, but it has. So I decided it was time to read The Scorpio Races for myself. I’ve been reading a lot of ARCs lately, which is great. But you can’t recommend them to customers, which is frustrating. Telling someone, “Hey, I just read the perfect book, but sorry you can’t read it for another few months” does not go down well. I tried it. That customer is still waiting for Elvis and the Underdogs to come out.
Back to The Scorpio Races. It is a realistic fantasy novel about water horse races that take place on November on a tiny, remote island. Stiefvater is excellent at creating crossover stories that hover between fantasy and realism. The term is magical realism, but that doesn’t quite capture what she does in her novels. Celtic realism, maybe? Stories that hover between the realism of an ancient world and the realism of today’s world? The two first person narratives alternate between Sean Kendrick and Kate Connelly. Both are on the edge of survival. Both have reasons why they need to win the race. And both recognize and admire the fierceness and intensity of the other. Stiefvater writes amazing final sentences of each chapter. Rather than driving the reader through cliffhanger endings, which are effective but often overused, Stiefvater drives the reader by creating deeper and deeper connections with the two characters. I felt compelled to keep reading because I’d learn one thing more about Kate or Sean in the final sentence, which made me want to read further, just so I could get to know them better. Such excellent technique demonstrates Steifvater’s keen writing skills. I’m glad to know that I now feel fully confident in that recommendation. But I think I will always wonder whether that unknown girl, who received The Scorpio Races from her aunt because I recommended it, loved the book as much as I did.