These notes, written casually over the past six or eight years, were done purely for the pleasure of recommending books that I’ve loved and thought worth reading, and are an extended and referable answer to the definitive question of the bookseller’s trade: “Can you suggest something for me to read?” In the normal workaday conversation, with the phones ringing, other customers wanting attention and books waiting to be shelved, the first answer to the insoluble mystery of Somebody Else’s Taste is usually of a frustrated brevity. You point to your recommended shelf and get barely the first scent of a person’s spiritual center of gravity, pet topics or political leanings before you’re whisked off to do something else. Yankees or Red Sox? Saxon or Celt? Wagner or Verdi? The notes are my side of a conversation we rarely have time for, and your chance to figure out if it’s a conversation you want to have.
One of the rarely-noted pleasures of working in a secondhand book shop is the somewhat willy-nilly quality it gives to your reading; you simply never know what’s going to come to hand. Obviously anyone who recommends Sherlock Holmes and Tintin and the Ender books (as well as the poetry of William McGonagall and a book called Boring Postcards) has not entirely turned his back on popular culture. But I’ve also included a lot of titles far off the well-beaten path of genre reading and the Times bestseller list, books which may require of you what in one essay I call “the exercise of vision.” If anyone catches the scent of evangelizing in this, so be it. Guilty as charged.
As the blog setup requires, the most recent notes are given first; but the linked index of subjects given in the featured posts will enable you to read the notes as they were written, and catch perhaps the faint thread of narrative that goes through them. (Warning: it’s very faint.) A good half of the notes have been expanded from their original forms, with additions and being brought up to date. Answers, comments, disagreements, compliments, cries of exasperation and, most importantly, corrections of fact are welcome and may be addressed to me at the Book Barn’s e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Dropping these notes into the larger silence, as with any blog, can be like spitting into a canyon. It’s always nice to know when you’ve hit someone on the head.