Bookstores typically aren’t pioneers when it comes to technology. We use book industry databases to help us navigate the growing world of books and can’t easily survive without the bookstore computer systems to manage the business, but otherwise, bookstores thrive on low-tech approaches to business. In today’s world, we often need to remind ourselves that this isn’t necessarily wrong.

Just think about the number of times you’ve called a business to automatically receive the recorded message that claims “your call is important to us…” and then you hang on the line and wonder if you’ll reach a real person. Conversations about implementing the $15 minimum wage includes corporations trying to find ways to automate more functions … to minimize the effect on shareholders.

Real connection requires the human touch.

Meaningful connection requires the human touch.

This week I read on Care2, an article by Anne Pietrbngelo entitled “7 Ridiculously Easy Ways to Do Good” and #3 was “When it’s people vs. technology, choose people.”

This is good advice for individuals. It’s great advice for companies.

We can love technology, but know its appropriate uses, switching to the human side of life to really connect. Long term, true relationships are formed this way.

An algorithm can give you a book recommendation, but it takes a real bookseller to listen to you explain what doesn’t work in a “search” box, then hand you some suggestions. You can browse online, but there’s nothing like hanging out in a bookstore, listening to people talk about their lives and their reading, and being surrounded by books that explore, explain, reflect on, and laugh at life.

You never know who you will meet, things you will discover, or what you will experience.

Our world is high tech and that won’t change. While our bookstores will be run on technology in the background, the real current is the human touch. It’s something that is and remains important.

We need to remind ourselves that it’s this human touch that forms the foundation of relationships and forms the foundation of a good business. It’s a good thing to keep this as our primary focus.

Today I’ve been watching all of the regional bookseller associations report their weekly bestseller lists. Go Set a Watchman remains at #1 for Fiction, even the skeptics from my book group agreed to add a lunch discussion so we could get in a conversation while the book has been grabbing attention everywhere.

There’s a saying in the book business that all publicity is good publicity.

The latest controversy is over Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman. May it keep on selling and prompting valuable dialogue.

The latest controversy is over Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. May it keep on selling and prompting valuable dialogue.

Even though Harper Lee’s book has been widely criticized and some people have complained they’ve been duped that the book is new, the country is curious. To Kill a Mockingbird is an American classic and sadly, the story of equality and racism is still unfolding.

In bookstores across the U.S., the conversation is happening … about racism, great novels, sequels and prequels, what makes a classic, humanity, hope, and why we need literature.

Controversy is fine. It signals that we’re thinking critically about a lot of things. Authors and books offer us these opportunities to keep searching, learning, evolving. Books bring us out of our lonely corners and connect us with what is meaningful.

But first, we have to buy the book and be part of the conversation.

May books continue to make us uncomfortable about our unfinished work, and prompt us to change and grow for the better.

Most of us in the world of book selling don’t think of us as salespeople and that’s a good thing. While owners and managers are clear that the store doesn’t stay in business unless there are sales, inspiring a purchase (and making the numbers) happens in the most subtle ways in the bookstore. And the best booksellers don’t have the kinds of personalities we typically think of for people in sales.

A display of Ann Patchett's personal recommendations at Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN.

A display of Ann Patchett’s personal recommendations at Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN.

Last week while we were visiting Nashville, where in the late 1980s and early 1990s I managed the beloved Davis-Kidd Booksellers, we stopped into Parnassus to say “hello”, get some new photos, and shop. A conversation with Nathan, one of the Parnassus booksellers who previously worked for Joseph-Beth (the indie chain that purchased Davis-Kidd), led to my purchase of one more book … and was a reminder of what qualities make for a really great bookseller.

The conversation began when I picked up a copy of Marilynne Robinson’s newest novel Lila and commented to Nathan about how much my book group enjoyed Gilead. Nathan said he loved Robinson’s new book and then asked what other kinds of books I loved to read. When I explained that I absolutely adore reading “novels in letters” and thought Carlene Bauer’s Frances and Bernard did not get the notice it deserved, the heart of book selling magic began.

Nathan introduced me to the novel The Light and The Dark by a Russian author Mikhail Shishkin, a novel in letters! I’d never heard of this novelist and would not likely have discovered it on my own. Nathan went to get a copy of the book and placed it in my hands. And then he told me about the letters between the two characters, the historical background, and what makes the book memorable.

I added the book to my pile.

This is book selling at its greatest. One reader connects with another by asking questions, listening, sharing what they’ve read or know about that may be of interest.

Is it selling? Sure. But it’s mostly about caring about others and wanting to share the remarkable experience of reading a really great book.

Bravo, Parnassus! And thank you, Nathan.