As a person of above-average intelligence who takes great pride in her above-average intelligence, believe me when I say that nothing feels more embarrassing than being lost in a bookstore. After all, you’re obviously not intelligentsia if you don’t have a Strand bag over one arm, glasses (faux or nay) perched on your nose, and an air of belonging equally palpable in the fiction and non-fiction sections of any bookstore. How does one achieve this Zen of calm, intelligent belonging when buying new books in a bookstore? Here’s how to pick our a great book at the bookstore, or die trying:

Read like a writer

Like reading? How about reading about reading? Magazines like The New Yorker, The Antioch Review, Ploughshares, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, The Paris Review, even Entertainment Weekly, can be invaluable resources when it comes to the next big thing. The key here is to find a mag that resonates with you in many ways: intellectually, politically, socio-economically, etc, so that their advice is more easily assimilated into your natural decision-making process.


2  Stalk your favourite writers

LOVE Haruki Murakami? Of course you do. But did you know that he reads? That’s right: all writers read. In fact, reading is probably the most all-time favouritest pastime of your favourite writers, and the internet is an amazing repository of the contents of their personal reading bibliographies, and opinions on same.


3  Don’t be afraid to make yourself at home

Take your time. Despite how you feel, no one is actually comparing your book-finding skills to their own. If anything, they’re busy worrying that you think they’re the idiot. Read the backs of the books. Read the critics comments. Enjoy the cover art – does it leave you wondering what’s inside, or afraid to find out? Finally, read some of the actual book – does the style of writing grab you?


Take a risk

There is no foolproof method to finding a good book. Sometimes the reviews and cover art and back cover summaries hide a real clunker and despite your best efforts, you might find yourself with a terrible book. In the grand scheme of things, though, is that the worst thing ever? (Hint: nope)


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You now know more than you did about book buying. The reality is this: there’s no surefire way to pick a winner every time. Sometimes luck is involved. Sometimes fancy displays help/hinder your efforts. Sometimes interest in what that cute guy over there in the graphic novel section is reading might steer you to your new favourite genre. Be open to the experience of book hunting, and enjoy it for what it is. Much like actual hunting (I imagine), the outcome is necessarily uncertain; the fun part is the chase.

Mada Romero