“A good bookstore is still a place you can find a book you didn’t know you wanted to read,” Muse said. What most interested him is the tension that arises in a bookstore. “They are a place of commerce, but they’re also this place of literature and creating.”
Muse commands the unusual academic title “Reader in Bookselling”—the only one as far as he knows—at Bangor University in Wales, where the American has lived for the past three decades. He is also co-director of the Bookselling Research Network, a consortium of researchers, booksellers, and publishers dedicated to sharing information about bookstore culture.
His method for surveying ‘bookstore novels’ was relatively simple. He reached out to his network and scoured online catalogues, book review sites, and resources like Goodreads, AbeBooks, and Alibris. It snowballed from there, and before long he had created a bibliography that is fully accessible online and which could easily double as a want list for collectors.
In his research, Muse found a massive uptick in bookstore novels published in the twenty-first century: 417 since 2000, when the term “indie bookstore” took off and major cultural shifts were underway. The independent bookstore was viewed as a center of community that worked well as a novel setting, particularly, Muse found, for female characters looking to reshape their identities. Bookshops also apparently make excellent backdrops for murder and crime; more than two-thirds of the bookstore novels identified are bibliomysteries.