The Art Of The Bookstore Pickup

Does romance await you amidst the paperbacks and magazine racks? You bet—just keep this advice handy next time you browse.

By Dustin Goot

rue story: A few years ago I was in a Borders skimming through Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, a story about a missionary family in the Congo. Within about 20 minutes, two cute women came up separately and started chatting with me about the book. (Trust me. This usually never happens.) Apparently, Kingsolver has a large female fan base, and I’d stumbled upon a powerful icebreaker. The experience opened my eyes: The bookstore is like a singles superstore, complete with aisles labeled according to someone’s interests. Follow these tips to a literary love connection.

Don’t wait for an opening
Yes, a bookstore is chock-full of easy icebreakers (the books, if you haven’t guessed), but that also means you’ve got to try extra hard to get someone’s attention. “In bookstores, people are usually caught up in their own thoughts and what they’re reading,” says David
A bookstore is chock-full of easy icebreakers (the books, if you haven’t guessed).
Wygant, author of Always Talk to Strangers. The upshot is, you can’t just stand there and hope to catch someone’s eye like you would at a bar. If you see someone you like, jump in by making a comment about the book the person’s perusing, even if that’s as simple as a “Hey, I’ve been wondering about that book, how is it?” That said, make sure to keep this next piece of advice in mind as well…

Keep it real
“Try to be truthful,” advises Jill Spiegel, author of The Flirtologist’s Guide to Dating. In other words, guys shouldn’t feign interest in yoga just because they want a slinky, flexible mate, and women who hate sports needn’t read CliffsNotes on Moneyball in order to land an athletic hunk. This will eventually backfire. Instead, try this…

Use the gift-shopping excuse
There’s no reason to ignore a cutie because you don’t care for the section he or she is browsing. Simply invoke a friend or family member who does share that hobby and say “Hey, I’m looking for a birthday gift for someone, and it looks like you two share the same interests. Could you recommend a book you think my friend would like?” Even if that’s a lie, it’s a harmless one that can build a bridge to a real connection.

Be approachable
As I learned from my Kingsolver experience, it’s very natural for other shoppers to want to talk to you. Make it easy for them. Don’t take your books into a corner; stand and read them at the
Every so often remind yourself to smile.
shelves, or at a table that’s in the open. Bonnie Jacobson, author of The Shy Single adds, “Every so often remind yourself to smile. This makes other people feel good and suggests you’re open to conversation.”

Let your nerd flag fly
People go to bookstores to indulge quirky, intellectual interests. Don’t hide yours. Ed Lowe, a Chicago pensions analyst, recalls a time a woman interrupted him as he read a collection of short stories by the existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre: “I think I said something pithy about Sartre’s thoughts on human frailty,” he recalls. Not the most romantic line, but it worked! “I invited her to my next book club meeting and we began dating,” he says. If Sartre can spark attraction, anything can!

Work the magazine rack
The action is fast and furious over by the periodicals. Since newsstand folks are looking for quick entertainment, they can be easier to engage, Wygant says. Any celebrity photo or Cosmo headline is an instant talking point, whether that’s “Any new celeb couples I should know about?” or “So… what is the number one mistake women make on a date? I’m wondering if it gels with my own opinion on that.”

Continue your conversation over coffee
Once you’ve enjoyed some initial flirtation, gauge a person’s interest right away by asking to adjourn to the bookstore café. (If the store doesn’t have one, suggest a coffee shop nearby.) Just say something like “Hey, I’d love to talk about this more, but I’m about to keel over from caffeine withdrawal. Care to grab a coffee with me?” Not only are you striking while the iron’s hot, but it can often feel like less pressure than a phone-number exchange. And yet there you are, on your first date already! Who said intellectual bookworm types can’t pack some suave moves like this?

Dustin Goot is a freelance writer based in New York City. He has also written on dating and relationships for Wired and Time Out New York.
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