I visited a new bookshop last weekend.
It was lovely - well laid out, with some magazines and gifts but not too much. There was a coffee bar, a seating area and the obligatory minor celebrity chef in the corner doing things with some noodles (which sadly prevented me from checking out all of the books that were trapped behind his workstation thing).
Anyhoo, while I was there, something caught my eye. Instead of the usual massively discounted table covered with pink-tinged bestsellers and a couple of Orange Prize nominees, they had several small tables, each with a display of a single book - Book of the Month, Non-Fiction Book of the Month, etc.
But there was also a 'Minority Book Recommendation' table. This month's minority recommendation was a history of Paris.
The idea of the minority recommendation was simple - if you like this type of book, the selection is an especially good example of its genre. If you're not interested in this kind of thing, well, never mind. Better luck next month. They also offered a full refund on the minority recommendation if it wasn't to your taste.
(Effectively it was the Miss Jean Brodie table - 'for those who like this sort of thing, this will be the sort of thing they will like.')
I thought it was a fantastic idea. The subject area wasn't quite mainstream enough for a blanket 'this is fab!' recommendation, but the book was good enough to merit highlighting. I wish more bookshops would do this!
Many people claim that readers make perfectly good 'gatekeepers' for quality writing - that we don't necessarily need agents and publishers and bookshop buyers to make the decisions for us. A fair point. And yes, I can choose novels with reasonable confidence, because I read them a lot.
When it comes to a history of Paris, though, I might need a little help, and that is where a good bookshop comes into its own.
It was great to see a bookshop that was doing an excellent job with the resources it had, and that reminded me of all the best things about bookshops. When bookselling is done well, there is definitely a place for it that nothing else can fill.