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A blind date with books in Harvard Square

Customers must put their faith in the staff’s recommendations when buying certain books at the Harvard Book Store.
Customers must put their faith in the staff’s recommendations when buying certain books at the Harvard Book Store. (Harvard Book Store)

People say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” For some books at Harvard Book Store, it will be hard to.

The shop, nestled in the heart of Cambridge’s Harvard Square, this week put out a new rack of recommended books that were hand-picked by the store’s staff.

But here’s the catch: Each book, plucked from the used book section in the store’s basement, is wrapped with brown craft paper and labeled “Blind Date With A Book.”

Customers must put their faith in the staff’s recommendations when buying a book, according to Alex Meriwether, Harvard Book Store’s marketing manager, and trust that what lies inside the brown paper is worth reading.

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“These are one-of-a-kind books that our staff chose while browsing the used book department. They’re hidden gems,” said Meriwether, adding that the employees have personally read the books they are endorsing.

The store chose a name for the project that would resonate with the upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday.

To make the choice somewhat easier for customers, blurbs are handwritten on the front of each package.

“Sparkling, Brilliant, Tragic,” read one description of a book on the rack, which is positioned at the store’s main entrance to entice readers.

To make the choice somewhat easier for customers, blurbs are handwritten on the front of each package.
To make the choice somewhat easier for customers, blurbs are handwritten on the front of each package. (Harvard Book Store)

Another read, “A stunningly written love letter to the quiet magic of childhood summers.”

Other descriptions used passages or quotes from the texts to rouse people’s interest. Some were written as though the books themselves were speaking.

“I’ll take you away from the snow and ice,” one cover said. “We’ll sip piña coladas in the sun.”

The message was adorned with a drawing of a small wave and palm tree.

Meriwether said this is the first time the store has done something like this. The idea was hatched from similar in-store gimmicks at other bookstores across the country.

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The mystery of it all seems to be working. On Wednesday, when the wrapped books were placed at the front of the store, there were 30 books to choose from.

Six hours later, a “panicked e-mail” circulated around the office because there were only eight books left, Meriwether said.

By Friday the shelves had been restocked several times.

“Every day the staff has been picking more books to add,” he said. “It has been hugely successful.”

The book display will be out until Monday, Presidents’ Day, before it comes down. But something similar might be tried again.

Serena Longo, the store’s marketing coordinator, said people trust their booksellers, and the fact that the wrapped books are flying off of the shelves proves it.

“People are willing to close their eyes and take our hand, and that’s sort of really gratifying for us, and it’s a great thing for the bookstore,” she said. “You’re not looking at the jacket, or the quotes on the cover; you are just sort of able to get this very distilled endorsement from us. That’s what we do. We endorse books. And we put them in people’s hands.”


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.