In the trade it’s called hand-selling – you may have had it done to you? It’s where the bookseller physically puts a book in your hand with a heartfelt recommendation. And the really smart operators make sure there’s some kind of physical contact – just hand on hand, or touching your sleeve. Nothing unsavoury but that little gesture conveys extra conviction and sincerity. And the result – they hope – is that you buy the book (and, even better, enjoy it).
You won’t be accosted in this way as you walk into a bookshop for the first time – we British don’t like that kind of forwardness. But if you’re a repeat customer then, given the current financial climate, the bookseller wants you to come back and buy again. So the recommendation is probably genuine and at the very least you can engage with him or her next time you’re in the shop.
I mention it because in visiting publishers as I do, they want me to know the books they’re passionate about (or have high hopes for – not always the same thing). If this were the world of finance it would be akin to insider trading but it’s what turns the world of publishing. We all know there are far more books out there than we can read – although it doesn’t stop us trying. So how do we winnow the wheat from the chaff? Within the trade newbooks has assiduously won a reputation for spotting such books and bringing them to the attention of keen readers like you. (There are, of course, many other books where the carpet is lifted ever so slightly and the guilty object is hidden from sight. No matter, we move on looking for the next great read.)
So, hand-selling is important and it was done to me recently with The Virgin Cure. The appointment was over and we were leaving when one of our hosts emerged from her office clutching proofs of this book and gave it such an impassioned thumbs up that we clutched our copies and left vowing to read on. And we both did. And we both enjoyed it – which is why it’s going to be in the magazine for you to sample and hopefully feel the same way.
So what’s it about? A Virgin Cure is ‘the notion that a man can be cured of French pox or any other disease by laying with a virgin’. Our heroine? ‘I am Moth, a girl from the poorest part of Manhattan, born to a slum-house mystic and the man who broke her heart. Mama sold me the summer I turned twelve.’
The setting is New York in 1871 but there has been much recent coverage of a group of Asian men in Lancashire grooming young girls and passing them round for sex. They may not have been looking for medical salvation but the issues are remarkably redolent of this period 140 years ago. The fact that therein lies a well told tale that unfurls with supporting marginalia from the newspapers and other publications of the time make for a riveting read and – I would venture – much to discuss for a reading group.
There, it’s not quite ‘hand-selling’ but I’ve done my best to encourage you to give this book a try – and if it weaves its charms on you as it did me then perhaps you can hand-sell it on to your group, friends and family?