For most people, blind dates can be hit or miss. (Mostly miss, right?)
But when we’re talking books, blind dates are almost always a pleasure, which is why you have probably seen a lot of Blind Date With a Book programs at bookstores, libraries and online services. (Google it if you haven’t and you’ll find lots of variations on the theme.)
The setup is simple: You, a reader, get paired with a wrapped and unidentified book, though some info – genre or general plot – is often shared ahead of time. (My colleague Vanessa Franko loves the concept so much that she’s largely the reason we’re talking about it here.)
I’ve enjoyed a few variations of this: One year, my family gave me a book subscription from Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, England, a fabulous bookshop we’d all visited once, and I’d receive a well -curated choice once a month. I loved it.
So there are lots of ways to enjoy surprise books, but something about the romance and possibility of the blind date – look, if we all hated blind dates as much as we say we do people wouldn’t be going on them, right? – was on my mind when I visited The Ripped Bodice last weekend.
I went there as part of the Indie Bookstore Field Trip with Bel Canto Books owner Jhoanna Belfer, Christy Krumm Richard and a crew of book lovers, which I wrote about last week. It was totally fun, and I hope to participate again on future trips. (See photo below of the participants at Village Well Books in Culver City.)
The Ripped Bodice, which was the first romance-only bookstore in the US, has a popular Blind Date With a Book section, and co-owner Leah Koch talked to me about their version of the service. (We spoke to her sister of Ella Bea Koch in 2020 about her book of Ella and she gave us some good romance suggestions, too.)
“We did not come up with the idea,” Koch stresses, adding she’s seen it done at libraries, online and even a college bookstore. “It’s just such a fun idea. When we started, we probably put out four or five, like, ‘We’ll see how these do,’ and then they’re all gone the next day. Then we put out 10 and those were all gone. And now it gets its own section. It continues to surprise me how many people love it.”
When asked why she thinks it’s so popular, Koch thinks, “It’s like a game; it speaks to people’s decision fatigue,” she says. “They make great gifts – it still surprises me how many we sell a day.”
While they keep the section filled through the year with books they have on hand, Koch says the gift-giving season is when they really need to stock up.
“Our busiest season, which is mainly the holidays, we sell so many that we order books specifically to be made into Blind Dates, and in that case I’m mainly looking for under-the-radar authors maybe that people wouldn’t be as familiar with or things that are exciting for some reason but that aren’t quite hitting the mainstream.”
Koch says they aim to make sure people have at least some idea what they are getting.
“That’s why it’s not totally blind – it says ‘werewolf,’ and if you don’t like werewolves don’t pick that one,” says Koch.
So we know werewolf fans and my colleague Vanessa – who may have received a book promising a nurturing cowboy, an amnesiac Manhattanite and a snowy Christmas in Wyoming – like this set-up, but how about you? Send me an email if you’ve ever done a blind date with a book or want to share on the topic.
• • •
Events in Ukraine have been weighing on the minds of many, and there are far more qualified voices to look to on that subject, but if you’re looking for books related to the area you might check out roundups by The New York Times, LitHub and author Keith Gessen. As well, Darryl Cunningham’s “Putin’s Russia: The Rise of a Dictator” (Drawn + Quarterly) is a serious, probing graphic biography about Vladimir Putin’s life, career and rise to power. (You can read an interview with Cunningham here and see images from the book.)
Thanks, as always, for reading.
• • •
Musician Warren Ellis shares his most formative reading inspiration.
Musician Warren Ellis’s recent book “Nina Simone’s Gum” is part memoir, part the story of how he came to possess a piece of gum chewed by the later singer Simone for two decades, and how the gum affect him and others who encountered it. In an interview with Peter Larsen to talk about him’s book and his tour with longtime collaborator Nick Cave this month, Ellis agreed to answer a few questions about his life with books.
Q: Do you have a favorite music memoir or music book that you’re reading?
A: I really liked Art Pepper’s “Straight Life.” I thought that was amazing. And I really enjoyed Mark Lanegan’s last book, “Devil In A Coma.” He wrote about sort of fever dreams he had when he had COVID. I read that recently. It was published just before he died.
Q: Is there a book or two you’ve read that you like to recommend to others?
A: I really love “Walkabout” by James Vance Marshall. It’s what the film was based on. I really loved that book. I often tell people to read “American Psycho.” I think I’ve read that about four or five times, and each time I see a different thing. I love that book.
Q: How do you decide what to read next?
A: I think it depends when you’re asking me. Like, when I was younger, there was a lot of authors I wanted to read because you just knew they existed. Like William Burroughs. And there was something around them, you know, that was exciting. These days I listen to a lot of audiobooks. Particularly during a lockdown, I listened to a lot of them. If I can hear them read by the author, it’s good.
Q: Do you remember the first book that had a big impact on you?
A: Yeah, “The Outsider” by Albert Camus. I read that and it just blew my mind. That and a play called “Equus.”
Q: What are you reading next? Did you bring a book on tour with you?
A: I do have a book on tour, I can actually show you. [Ellis holds his new copy of Pete Dexter’s “Deadwood” up to the camera.] I was listening to a podcast and they were talking about this amazing book that was never given a look in its day. It was on the Backlisted podcast, a really great podcast where they talk about sort of unknown books.
I was trying to pick up “Zombie,” the Joyce Carol Oates book on Jeffrey Dahmer, because I just finished doing the music for a TV series on it, on Dahmer, and (film director) Andrew Dominik said, ‘Oh, you have to read “Zombie.” We just did “Blonde,” his adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ book “Blonde.” But I haven’t been able to find that yet.
Q: Is there someone who really inspired you or helped you get excited about books?
A: My father always read to me as a kid. My father read poems to us as kids, he read nursery rhymes, he read stories. If I ever couldn’t find my dad, he’d be just sitting on the floor somewhere reading a book or looking at an article in something.
He always talked about the power of words. When I wrote my book, he sent me a text and said, ‘I’ve finished your book. loved it. I read it to your mother aloud. It sounds beautiful.’ So I’d have to say my dad.
You know, he showed me a magic trick when I was a kid, which was to pick up a book of poetry and just start playing the guitar and start singing a song using the words that were there on the page. I just thought that was the wildest thing I’d ever seen.
I never thought about this until during the book, but my father really opened those doors to me. He definitely instilled in me the importance and the awe and the wonder that was in creative things, the written word and music.
• • •
To ‘Fell’ and Back
How Sarah Moss created “The Fell,” a dystopian novel about current-day COVID-19. READ MORE
Daniel Medina turned his play into a comic book he took into prisons. READ MORE
walk this way
Annabel Streets shares the unusual walking habits of others and its proven benefits. READ MORE
The week’s best sellers
The top-selling books at your local independent bookstores. READ MORE
• • •
What’s next on ‘Bookish’
The next free Bookish event will be March 18 at 5 pm and feature writers John Cho, Wajahat Ali and Kristina Wong.
Register to watch here.
Plus, more book and author events…
Virtual: C Pam Zhang, author of “How Much of These Hills Is Gold,” moderates a virtual event with 10 contributors to a new collection of Chinese stories and essays, “The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories.”
when: 5 p.m., March 8.
Information: Register here to watch the free event.
Into the ‘Cold’
in-person: In this Skylight Books event, author Mariko Tamaki will read and discuss her young adult novel “Cold,” with CB Lee.
when: 7 p.m. March 19.
Information: This in-person event will be at Junior High Los Angeles, 603 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Details here.
Ready to ‘Rage’
in-person: In this event sponsored by Riverside’s Cellar Door Books, Sabaa Tahir, author of the bestselling An Ember in the Ashes series, comes to Riverside’s The Center for Social Justice & Civil Liberties for an in-person conversation about her new book, “All My Rage.”
when: 6 p.m. March 23.
Information: This in-person event will be at 5225 Canyon Crest Dr. #30A Riverside. Get event information here.