You Are What You Tweet: Emma Straub, Rainbow Rowell and why we should all consider doing a little Shelf Catering every now and again...
March 31, 2016
YOU ARE WHAT YOU TWEET: an occasional blog strand about particularly perfect and inspiring tweets. Turns out you can say an awful lot in 140 characters or less…
Above is a twitter exchange between two of my favourite writers: Emma Straub and Rainbow Rowell. Isn’t it wonderful? It captured my imagination for two reasons.
One, it tells me that when Emma Straub is hanging out in Book Court of an afternoon she is the sort of person who quickly finds herself chatting to someone also there browsing the shelves. A stranger. LOVE this about her.
What I love even more is what she does next. I’m guessing the person must have mentioned that they were looking for something to read, but that they weren’t sure what to go for. So what does Straub do? Does she A) guide them over to the ‘S’ section of the shop, flick open the completely awesome The Vacationers, point to her author pic and cough expectantly? Or does she B) ask them what kind of stuff they usually like to read and what they’re currently in the mood for, think for a bit, and then guide them over to the 'R' shelves where she proceeds to introduce them to Fangirl (and by association the entire back and future catalogue of Rainbow Rowell, because believe me, once you’ve read one Rowell it’s virtually impossible to stop. They'll be bingeing on Eleanor and Park before they can say 'three words long'.)
The second reason this tweet stuck out was because, contained within it, is a very brilliant idea. Namely, writers hand-selling other writers. Or (go with me on this)....going out into the world and doing a little Shelf Catering every now and again.
This exchange between Straub and Rowell refers to a lovely moment of happenstance, but what if it could turn into more than that? What if we could take what Straub did ie. a writer hand-selling another writer and formalise it into a mass, one-day-a-year Shelf Catering event that takes place in bookshops up and down the country?
Think about it.
Writers could volunteer their services for an afternoon shift at their local bookstore and, once installed, be on call to chat to and recommend books to customers who were in the mood for something different, but not sure what to buy. Not only would it be fun, it would also drive traffic into the store, connect writers and readers in a way they’ve never really connected in person before and most importantly it would introduce readers to writers they may never have even heard of, let alone considered.
It goes without saying that book-sellers are and always will be the Khalisi-like warriors of the shelves. Their knowledge combined with their ability to listen and respond to browsing customers is unsurpassed. I’m not suggesting that this can in any way compete with their level of expertise, rather I’m saying it might be an occasional treat, a kind of bring a-writer-to-the-bookshop kind of day.
Shit, if a writer I love recommends a book on twitter or in an interview I take note, because I believe that these people know their onions. So if they were to recommend it to me IN PERSON and if that recommendation was tailored to my likes and dislikes, quite frankly, I'd buy whatever they put in front of me.
Imagine the scene. A rainy Saturday afternoon in West End Lane Books and Ali Shaw (author of the exceptional and newly released ‘The Trees’) is there, working alongside the booksellers, ready to offer a little shelf catering help to anyone who wants it. You enter the shop, get chatting and have him guide you over to the shelves. He presents you with a book. It’s a writer you’ve never heard of but Ali Shaw loves it, he says he’s read it three times and that he thinks you’d love it too. I'm guessing you probably, almost certainly, buy the book.
As of today I'm a nobody (and I’ll probably still be a nobody when my book comes out in October) but believe me when I say that what I lack in ‘somebody-ness’ I make up for in enthusiasm. Put me in a bookshop right now, for example, and I guarantee I’d sell the shit out of Sharon Guskin’s The Forgetting Time and they’d better make sure they have enough copies of Jonathan Lee's High Dive in stock because I would sell that place DRY.
But I’d also have an arsenal of other, older books up my sleeve, books that, depending on what type of story the reader said they were in the mood for, I'd recommend with a passion bordering on the evangelical....books like Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved, Susanna Moore’s In The Cut and Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
So there you have it. My big idea. Shelf Catering Day. Ta-dah!
Seriously though, I would love it if this could happen in real life (just putting that out there, Rhonda Byrne style) but it probably won't and, you know what, that doesn't matter because this twitter exchange between two of the world's most wonderful writers alive in 2016 - Emma Straus and Rainbow Rowell - will still have happened and will still be a pure delight to have seen and thought about and imagined. And for that, Twitter, I am grateful.