Elizabeth’s Bookshop is an independent chain of book stores based in NSW and Western Australia. Its main claim to fame is the paperback "blind date"; a novel (ahem) concept that attempts to sell books to customers sight unseen. Instead of relying on pretty covers or the literary clout of its author, each novel is completely wrapped in brown paper. Your only clue to what lies within are a few intriguing phrases scrawled on the front. Last week, we picked up one of these mystery titles to see if we could game the system.
Have you ever wandered into a bookstore without a clear purchase in mind? The "paperback blind date" is designed for precisely this type of shopper.
Instead of leaving its customers to aimlessly scan the bookshelves, Elizabeth’s Bookshop presents you with a table of books wrapped in brown paper with just a few vague words to give you an idea about the book's content. In other words, it turns reading for pleasure into a complete lucky dip.
"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," explained Ryan, an Elizabeth’s Bookshop employee from the Pitt Street store in Sydney.
"We just offer a broad topic which hints at the genre, so if you feel like reading an adventure or romance you can search for the relevant word cues."
We were initially skeptical that the whole concept was just a ploy to get rid of hard-to-sell stock. However, we were assured by the company that all of its blind dates are good quality reads. Elizabeth’s Bookshop also has a seven-day return policy on all blind date titles: handy if you're unlucky enough to pick something you've already read.
As an avid reader, I was keen to try out this concept for myself. I also wanted to see if I could correctly guess the book based on the clues alone. One "date" in particular caught my eye — it promised a tale of philosophy, lust and ambition set during the Middle Ages. Or at least, that's what the handful of phrases appeared to hint at.
My first guess was that this must be Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose; a historical murder mystery set in an Italian monastery that I've always wanted to read. (Cinema buffs should check out the excellent 1986 movie adaptation starring Sean Connery and er, Christian Slater.)
Confident that I had successfully gamed the system, I took my book home and unfurled the wrapper. Instead of The Name of the Rose, I was presented with this:
Leaving Suzie Pye is a 2010 novel by John Dale that follows the exploits of a middle aged protagonist living in the here and now. In other words, I completely misinterpreted the "middle age" clue. Damn.
I'm currently about halfway through and it's a pretty amusing yarn; albeit one that readers of a certain age will probably appreciate more than myself. I almost certainly never would have given Leaving Suzie Pye a chance if not for the "blind date" conceit. This could either be a good or a bad thing, depending on how the book pans out.
In any event, I reckon Elizabeth’s Bookshop definitely has a winning concept on its hands here. If you're a keen reader and don't mind taking a shot in the dark, I recommend going on a blind date with a book. Not only is it fun, it encourages you to try new authors and genres.
I aim to give the service another go in the weeks to come. Next time I'll be sure to pay more attention to pesky pluralisation. I so should have realised that "Middle Age" was not a time period!
Would you buy a book completely unseen? Let us know what you think about this curious marketing gimmick in the comments section below.