Step into any Barnes & Noble and the first thing you see are tables covered in books. 'Tis the season, so there's the "Happy Holidays" table, with its quirky array of titles--Cornell West's new memoir, Ken Auletta's Googled, Alexandra Horowitz's Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, a biography of Thelonious Monk--authors and subjects with seemingly little if anything in common. The "Gift Books" table (20% off) is stacked with painstakingly crafted art books--one with gorgeous photos of the Vatican flanked by the Marvel Comics Encyclopedia and a history of Lego, the snappable children's toy. There's "Children's Books," "History," "Biographies," "New Arrivals," and "New in Paperback." Off to the right, Dean Koontz warrants his own narrow shelf. So does Michael Crichton. Beat a path to the cash register and you may stop to chuckle at the "Humor" table.
Have you ever wondered who decides which of the 55,000 books published each year end up on which tables and why? It's not serendipity, not by chance, not because some Barnes & Noble tastemaker is trying to lure us with the most scintillating reads of the year. It's marketing, pure and simple, all of it bought and paid for by publishers. One editor I spoke with, who, like almost everyone else I interviewed for this column insisted on anonymity for fear of alienating powerful booksellers, calls it "bookstore baksheesh."