Many people wander into a bookstore lacking a firm idea of what to buy but hoping that a knowledgeable bookseller will recommend just the work to read. In turn, one of the great joys of being a bookseller is matching the perfect title with a customer in need of a good book. At Politics & Prose, we enjoy those interactions more than almost anything else we do—whether we make our suggestions in person or through written recommendations known as “staff picks.”
If you’re browsing our shelves (or P&P’s website), you’ll find staff picks in all sections and representing all genres and literary tastes. Every bookseller at P&P is invited to provide staff picks from the start of his or her employment, and the choices can cover old as well as new titles and range from poetry to biography to graphic novels to, well, you name it.
A P&P staff pick can introduce customers to a debut novel, such as Nneoma’s recent recommendation of Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn. Or it could be a perfect read “for anyone who has eaten tempura that resembles a corn dog” and wants to know why Japanese food is so great, as Alice explains in her selection of Super Sushi Ramen Express by Michael Booth. Other current examples from our staff include: Marc’s choice of The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead; Janet’s selection of The Night Gardener by Terry and Eric Fan; Adam’s pick of The Big Book of Science Fiction edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer; and Angela’s suggestion of The Mothers by Brit Bennett.
You’ll find staff picks scattered on the shelves at all our locations. At the main store on Connecticut Avenue, there’s also a special section devoted entirely to staff picks, showcasing clusters of titles recommended by individual booksellers. This enables customers to learn the tastes and preferences of those staff members offering the recommendations. And like our staff, we as owners also enjoy recommending some of our latest favorites. Among Lissa’s current picks are All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister, String Theory by David Foster Wallace, and Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. Brad recommends The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee, Islamic Exceptionalism by Shadi Hamid, and Ordinarily Well by Peter D. Kramer.
Of course, staff picks aren’t unique to P&P. They’re a helpful offering at many independent bookstores and something that booksellers universally take pride in. As members of the American Booksellers Association, we also help promote Indie Next titles each month. These are lists of new releases featuring picks written by booksellers across the nation. You can pick these up in the form of paper flyers at our Connecticut Avenue store or receive them by email by subscribing to P&P’s newsletter.
For all of us—and we suspect for many of you—it’s quite a thrill to share a favorite book and see others fall in love with it. These very human-to-human recommendations will beat a computer-to-human, algorithm-generated recommendation every time!
— Brad and Lissa