Bricks-and-mortar bookstores will never disappear. Why? Because of people like Judy Gardner.
Now, many experts will tell you traditional bookstores are threatened by online giants like Amazon. The same folks happily predict the imminent demise of the printed book, with an ever-increasing number of people downloading electronic books to their tablets and e-readers.
Why, what could be more perfect than all your summer reading, at the cottage or on the road, stored on a device half the size of a paperback novel?
But online ordering and downloading misses a crucial ingredient: the personal relationship with a skilled bookseller, or should I say book selector. In this case, Judy.
Whenever I go into the Indigo Books store in Calgary’s West Hills shopping centre, I immediately go searching not for books but for Judy, praying it’s one of the days she’s working. If she’s there, I just say I’m looking for some books for, say, road-trip reading or Christmas gifts. I then simply follow her around the store as she makes recommendations that rarely, if ever, miss the mark.
In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell talks about mavens, people we rely on to connect us with new information. Well, Judy is one of those people. She reads widely and assiduously and has the rare ability to quickly size up a person’s reading habits and steer them to something they’ve never heard of but will undoubtedly like.
“It’s like being a chef and instinctively knowing what to put together for people,” she says. “I’ve been very fortunate that for more than 20 years (including a stint at former Calgary independent bookseller Sandpiper Books) I’ve been able to pass on my passion about reading books and to encourage people to take risks.”
Anyone can point you to the bestseller table. A more unusual gift is finding off-the-radar gems and convincing readers to buy them. Judy has sold more than 300 copies of one such book, God’s Hotel, a medical meditation by Dr. Victoria Sweet, with whom Judy has struck up an email correspondence. Talk about old-school viral.
A friend recently asked Judy for some travel and light summer reading and walked out of the store with 10 captivating books. One loyal customer buys a dozen of Judy’s recommended books every few weeks. If Judy’s going to be away, she’ll phone the woman to come in early to stock up on her reading material.
Of course, she’s “sold” books to her big boss, Toronto-based Indigo/Chapters founder and CEO Heather Reisman. “I’ve seen her enough times that, when she’s in town, she gives me a hug,” says Judy.
Regular Indigo/Chapters’ customers are familiar with Heather’s Picks. Well, just as importantly, here are some of Judy’s current reading picks.
God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine. By Victoria Sweet, who has worked at San Francisco’s extended-care Laguna Honda Hospital for 20 years
The Old Ways – A pilgrimage on foot along many of the British Isles’ paths and old roads by Robert Macfarlane
The Pope’s Bookbinder – A memoir by longtime Toronto antiquarian book dealer David Mason
Much Loved – Photographer Mark Nixon’s homage to aging and much-loved teddy bears and other stuffed animals
Medicine Walk– Canadian writer Richard Wagamese’s latest novel, about a father-and-son struggle