By MEG BENJAMIN
Denver has a Wonderful Bookstore. I’m not going to name it (for reasons that will become clear), but everybody in town will know the one I’m talking about. It’s multistory, with comfortable armchairs strewn around as an invitation to sit and browse. There’s a café on the ground floor right next to the newspaper and magazine section so that you can grab a sandwich while you check through the latest Entertainment Weekly. Famous authors come through regularly for signings. It is widely beloved, and it should be.
The fiction in the Wonderful Bookstore is mainly on the second floor. As you come up the wide staircase, the first thing you see is the mystery section. You know it’s the mystery section because there’s a large sign to tell you so. The books stretch across six bookcases and include both hardbacks and paperbacks, with a couple of the aforementioned armchairs well placed to give you a chance to read a few chapters before proceeding to checkout. The selection is eclectic, with both contemporary and classic authors—even a smattering of internationals.
The Wonderful Bookstore also has a romance section. I know this because I looked for it, although it took me a while. Fortunately, the Wonderful Bookstore offers maps of its books; frankly, I would never have been able to find the romances without one. Romances are shelved in a single bookcase located in one of the alcoves off the main area. The bookcase is identified with a small sign, but it faces the windows rather than the aisle, so you need to be looking to find it. As I recall, it’s surrounded by literary fiction, which takes up all the other alcove bookcases. Most of the romance offerings are paperback, and (since it’s a single bookcase) the number of authors is fairly small. The general impression I got is that the Wonderful Bookstore is willing to stock a barebones selection of romances for diehard addicts, but they sure as hell aren’t going to put that selection in a prominent place where their normal customers might see them.
Chances are, of course, that if I brought this situation to the attention of the Wonderful Bookstore management, they’d tell me I was imagining things. At least they carry romances, they’d point out, unlike some of the smaller independent booksellers who won’t sully their shelves with them. And I’m sure they think their customers aren’t really the type to read romances anyway.
To me, that kind of thinking constitutes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yeah, those of us who read romances probably won’t bother looking for them at the Wonderful Bookstore because we know (those of us who have tried) that they’re unlikely to be there. So the Wonderful Bookstore’s regular customers probably aren’t romance readers because romance readers have already moved on to more congenial places.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but it bears repeating: romance readers constitute a major part of current book customers. The bookstore that considers itself too good for romances runs the risk of someday finding themselves in desperate need of those readers who have become accustomed to looking elsewhere for their favorites.
I look forward to the day when the Wonderful Bookstore decides that romances deserve multiple bookcases too, but I’m not holding my breath. Besides, how will I know if this happens? I’ll already be buying my books somewhere else.
Meg Benjamin is a romance author who specializes in contemporary comedy. Be sure to visit her website at http://www.megbenjamin.com/ and check out her latest release, BE MY BABY.