The Help Desk: The bookstore of her dreams

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

If you owned an independent bookstore, what would it be like? Would you specialize in mysteries? Cookbooks? Cursed texts bound in human flesh?



Dear Nicole,

I am happy you asked that question because despite my aggressive lack of business acumen, I have strong opinions about how books should be organized. As you know, books are wonderful companions – they are the loyal, shit-free alternative to dogs and significant others – and yet bookstores can be overwhelming, especially for casual readers. Like online dating or pet adoption, it's often hard to know what pleases you until after you've experienced it. (And for readers like me who don't like summaries and don't trust blurbs, picking a book at random or based on someone's recommendation can be horrifying. That is how I stayed up all night reading The Lovely Bones just to make it fucking end.)

For these reasons, my bookstore wouldn't be organized by genre or the alphabet, it would be organized by mood. For instance:

  • Books to comfort you after another school shooting.
  • Books for when you need a gift for your father-in-law's 38-year-old wife for Mother's Day (and other relatives you're politely formal with).
  • Books you probably won't finish but feel compelled to buy because you're insecure about your intelligence and want others to see it on your shelf.
  • Mysteries that don't lead with lady rape or murder.
  • Books narrated by characters who probably don't look like you.
  • Books to give to teenagers that you love but don't know how to communicate with.

There would be a card catalog, alphabetized by name, for people who were on the hunt for specific author. The card would reveal the book's main mood/location, as well as list beta moods that it fits into.

Juveniles would get a free book – their cost would be donating a book, provided it isn't a shit book like the Bible or Atlas Shrugged. Juvenile delinquents would get two free books, provided they could prove they were delinquents.

Finally, we would act as a repository for readers who were disgusted by an author's recent actions, which would most likely involve sexually assaulting or otherwise demeaning women because that seems to be pretty popular. We would collect all of these books and hold semi-regular public trash-barrel book burnings in our parking lot, where we would invite the whole community and charge obscene, baseball-stadium prices for mediocre wine and flaccid hot dogs.

I believe that is the only way to make such a bookstore viable — and if not viable, at least very fun for me.