Valentine’s Day solo can be a bit of a minefield. Some choose to celebrate their friends with a Parks & Rec-esque Galentine's Day. Some choose to throw an anti-Valentine’s-Day party, and rock out with their anti-hearts-and-flowers friends. Some just choose to ignore it, muttering about ‘Hallmark holidays’ and waiting for the good chocolate to go on sale on the 15th. And some brave souls embrace it and head out on a blind date. It could be the perfect set up with the guy (or gal) of their dreams. It could be an awful three hours listening to your mom’s college roommate’s son, Kevin, talk about how fast his new car goes. Or, it could be an adventure into a totally new world, if your blind date is with a book!
How Do You Date a Book?
Well, we’re big fans of going out to dinner with a book, but this isn’t a Valentine’s Day date in the traditional sense. No need to dress up and buy flowers. Instead, a blind date with a book is a growing trend in bookstores that is designed to help readers discover something a little bit different.
The concept began with Australian booksellers Elizabeth’s Bookshop, who came up with the idea as a way to help customers who aren’t quite sure what they might want. Speaking to Lost At E Minor, an Elizabeth’s Bookshop employee explains, “A lot of people who come into our store don’t know what they want to buy so they just browse or ask for a recommendation. One of our staff members thought it would be a good idea to set up a kind of lucky-dip table where you get to pick a book at random." This ‘lucky dip’ table turned into a ‘blind date’ table, where the books are wrapped in brown paper, and labelled only with a few words or phrases that describe a little about it. Customers choose their books based on what interests them, and get to discover something that they may never have chosen otherwise – plus, they get the added benefit of a fun experience, and booksellers get to move more copies.
The trend that started in Australia has now spread worldwide. The original Elizabeth’s Bookshop runs a website for international customers to get their own blind dates sent to them, but other stores have also started creating their own blind dates. A separate Blind Date With A Book store on popular craft site Etsy will send you a wrapped book in a genre of your choice, along with a teabag and a personalized note if you choose their ‘full experience option.' Independent bookstores all around the world, inspired by Instagram and Pinterest images, are also wrapping up their books for blind dates – some with descriptors, some with quotes, some with only the first line. All of them have one thing in common, though; you never know exactly what you might end up reading.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Just like a blind date with a person, things can go perfectly on a blind date with a book – or they can go horribly, horribly wrong.
Ideally, the new book will prove fascinating, enjoyable, and be something that the reader never would have picked on their own. One of the big selling points of the blind date books are that they get readers out of their comfort zone. Maybe someone always sticks to young adult, and a blind date will introduce them to the joys of fantasy novels – and even inspire them to explore other genres. Readers who ignore non-fiction might discover that memoirs are fantastic places for love stories, and authors (or publishers) who missed the mark with a particular piece of cover art can find a whole new audience from under their brown paper wrappings. In addition, the blind date can be a great way to get a lift from a reading slump – the experience of choosing a book in such a unique way and unwrapping it like a gift can be just the thing to shake a bored reader out of a rut. Blind dates with books can even become a more social experience. These are definitely trending, and taking part can be an event in and of itself.
There are times, however, when things don’t go so well. Although many stores will exchange a blind date book if it turns out that you’ve already read it, this isn’t a guarantee. Just like turning up on a blind date and finding out it’s with your friend from spin class (who you definitely aren’t interested in, thank you very much), picking a book you’ve already read is just disappointing. It’s also very possible to pick a book and not enjoy it at all. In the same way that some might discover a whole new genre, others might remember why they avoid that one in the first place. Picky readers, just like picky daters, are going to find it tough to fall in love with a book that is nowhere near their comfort zone. Of course, these aren’t risks unique to blind dates with books. Every reader has picked up a new novel only to find that they aren’t enjoying it as much as they thought they would. Seeing a cover and reading a blurb doesn’t guarantee that you are going to love your next read… but it certainly can help.
Blind Dates of the Future
Despite the potential for bad dates, blind dates with books continue to gain popularity. Maybe it’s the thrill of the surprise, maybe it’s the Instagram-worthy displays, maybe we’re just a little bit lazy and love to flip through ten different options in less time than it would usually take to read a single jacket. Whatever it is, it seems that blind dates are going to be around long past Valentine’s Day, and we could even see this trend evolve.
We’d love to see publishers get in on the action with limited-edition runs of ‘mystery books.' Blind dates without the brown paper wrapping would be more environmentally friendly and easier to re-use for future blind daters. Of course, this would allow for some spoilsports to ‘cheat’ and look inside, but we’d like to think that readers have more integrity than that. As well as bookstores, book clubs could start blind dating with a trip to the bookstore together to pick the next read (followed by everyone picking up their own copy, of course). Even travelling books and little free libraries could encourage readers to branch out with their own blind dates. The possibilities are endless.
Meanwhile, this Valentine’s Day, we’re loving the idea of dating a book. Even if a blind date seems a little too scary, what better way to celebrate a day of love than with your favorite read – that’s really true love!