Classics: Their own section or not?


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Classics: Their own section or not?

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Jan 2, 2011, 12:41pm

Greetings and Happy New Year. As you may have noted from my previous topic thread, I am about to assume ownership of a nice sized used bookstore. The store currently has a Classics section separate from the general fiction.

My inclination is to simply integrate these books into the general fiction population, but I was wondering whether anyone has some perspective for me on this question, pro or con. Thanks!

Maio 6, 2016, 12:32am

Hi Rocket,
I know this post is ancient, but I see you are still active, so I'll answer it anyway!

You've made your decision 5 years ago, but my two cents is: their own section. Most bookstores don't, and there's good sense to that. In my own bookstore, though, I keep them separate because of two reasons:

1. It makes selection easier for people who want to read/own a classic. They don't get confused by all the modern lit or the older fiction.

2. If your bookstore is anything like mine, you don't have just a big huge endless row of bookshelves. My store is so squirelly that if I had to combine all the fictions together, it wouldn't make geographic/logistic sense!

Scott Givens

Maio 6, 2016, 12:49am

As a book buyer, I wish stores wouldn't do this. What constitutes a "classic" is so subjective that half the time I'm looking in the wrong section.

Maio 6, 2016, 5:31am

>3 lilithcat: True, but I still like them separate myself. If it's not in the one, then I can easily go check the other. But I like to be able to browse classics and not have the goofy "top sellers" getting in my way.

Editado: Maio 6, 2016, 2:24pm

>3 lilithcat: Yes, this.

>4 .Monkey.: There are more classifications of novels than "classics" and "goofy top sellers," though. Louise Erdrich, Dave Eggers, Michael Chabon and T.C. Boyle are just the first four to catch my eye after a quick glance at my fiction shelves. Not to mention interesting older novels (or even newer ones!) that might catch a discerning reader's eye, books and authors they might not even have heard of, and end up as very enjoyable reading experiences. Or the "Oh, yeah, right. I've been meaning to read that" books that you'd never come across if you were solely perusing a "Classics only" section.

I can see stores that sell new books doing this. Or stores that are very large. City Lights in San Francisco does it, and that's my favorite new bookstore in the world.

To each his/her own, of course. I hope you'll still come visit my bookstore when you're in Mendocino County, CA. :)

Maio 6, 2016, 2:30pm

>2 browsers: Thanks for your perspective, by the way. For the record, I don't "combine all the fictions together." I have separate sections for Mystery, Science Fiction, Romance, Westerns and Spy/Adventure. I also have a separate section for antiquarian/collectible books.

But as a bookseller, I'm happy with my decision, because it leads to more sales. People ask for the Steinbeck section, and I show it to them, and then they come away with a Steinbeck and a Zadie Smith and, oh yeah, that one Jane Smiley that they never got around to reading.

Maio 6, 2016, 2:58pm

>5 rocketjk: Yeah and? Please tell me where I said those were the only two kinds of novels in existence.

...I was going to rant and explain but forget it, I'd rather go read.

Maio 6, 2016, 3:06pm

>7 .Monkey.: I never supposed you thought those were the only to kinds of books in existence. Those were the only two you mentioned, though, so that's what I based my comment on. I was simply explaining my choice as a bookseller not to shelve classics separately despite the occasional stumbling block of the goofy top sellers. Happy reading!

Maio 6, 2016, 9:19pm

I think that, frequently enough, the distinction between shelves of classics and others can help those who don't spend time with book reviews or with books: for students needing a book for a book review, for someone wanting to know what bestsellers a library currently has on hand, for someone who doesn't normally read classics and would like to give it a try.

Maio 7, 2016, 12:05am

>6 rocketjk: Rocket --you're welcome. I own two stores, and we shelve a little differently in each, mostly because of layout. Also because of employees--in one store, they can't figure out the difference between mysteries and thrillers, so we just lump it all together. The other store doesn't have that option (unless we want M-Z in an entirely different area), so Sue Grafton is not on the same shelf as W.E.B. Griffin.

Same goes for home. I don't have enough space for my fiction to stay together, so I have classics in one room and modern fiction in the other. I do, however, intermingle "old fiction" (which is separate in my stores) into each section.

I do, however, very much see the serendipity potential in having one big section, and if I had different layout, I would probably do it!


Maio 7, 2016, 1:48pm

>9 Diane-bpcb: Certainly, both systems have their pros and cons, and some of the factors you've mentioned, I agree, are the pros of a separate Classics section. Interestingly (to me, at least), I've never had a customer complain about the lack of such a section. People do ask for the Classics section sometimes, but when I explain the way I organize, people seem to be at least understanding. Of course, maybe they're thinking something different. I made the original decision because, as someone mentioned above, I felt there were too many authors who would fall into a middle ground and I thought it would be less confusing to just let all the books play together nicely on the shelves. But I'm also firmly convinced now that my way of arranging is better for sales, which, as much as I strive in other ways to be customer friendly, I have to pay close attention to, of course.

I do, actually, have a Classics section in my store, but it could just as accurately be called the Antiquities section. I use it for works like the Odyssey and the Aeneid, and epic poetry like The Song of Roland.

>10 browsers: I only have one employee, and she works on the days I'm not in the store. She had trouble for a long while telling the thrillers from the mysteries/crime novels. I told her to look at the story synopsis when in doubt. If the protagonist is a policeman or an FBI agent, it's Mystery. Any sort of "agent" or "conspiracy" makes it Spy/Adventure. After a while she got the hang of it.

Funny you should mention W.E.B. Griffin. I've got him in three places! Most of his series go in Military Fiction, the Presidential
Agent series goes in Spy/Adventure and the Badge of Honor is in Crime/Mystery.

Maio 7, 2016, 3:09pm

I agree with >3 lilithcat:: I go in my local Waterstones (this is Inverness UK) and sometimes have no idea where to look. Does 'classics' include the Penguin 'Modern Classics' series? Is a novel crime or not? OK that's sometimes obvious but by no means always. Does it count as Scottish? Again I often have no idea. Will it come under 'Religion' or 'Mind and Spiritualty'? A couple or so years ago I looked week after week for a book called The Riddle of the Labyrinth by Margalit Fox. It's about the cracking of the Linear B script often, but not entirely fairly, ascribed to Michael Ventris. Just by chance I spied it in the the Spirituality and Magic section. I'm sure we need some splitting into sections but "classics" is too vague and "Scottish" (fiction not local interest touristy books) seems a bit OTT.

Maio 11, 2016, 2:00am

Of course, my big theory--well, more than a theory because it is proven almost every day in the shop is:

---serendipity happens---

Whatever the organizational scheme (or lack thereof), the very act of hunting is not only part of the fun, but also can lead to unexpected and pleasing surprises.

Maio 11, 2016, 9:41am

>13 browsers:: Agreed. I usually go with a list (mostly books I've seen reviewed in the press) but as you say serendipity happens and I buy something on impulse. Perhaps browsing is easier in a smallish bookshop like the one here.

Maio 24, 2016, 4:54am

>13 browsers: >14 PossMan: Serendipity matters. It is noticeably absent when buying a book on-line: Amazon's 'people who bought A also bought B' offerings are an insult to customers' intelligence.

Maio 24, 2016, 5:35am

>15 abbottthomas: That is certainly true now, but 20+ years ago I found several good books that way. The one that sticks in my mind was the time I was buying a Mexican cookbook, and it recommended Make Your Own Dinosaur out of Chicken Bones. No, we never did manage to finish the dinosaur, but the idea was fun.