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Ottawa shop’s ‘blind date with a book’ encourages readers to branch out

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WATCH: Before purchasing a book at your local bookstore, chances are you were attracted by its cover. But what if you couldn't see the book until you'd bought it? – Jul 27, 2019

Nearly a year ago, Tom Lee, owner of Troubadour Books and Records, was facing declining sales and needed something to get customers into his shop on Bank Street in downtown Ottawa.

That’s when he decided to start encouraging shoppers at his independent bookstore to go on a “blind date with a book.”

“It’s an idea I stole from the internet, and I just find it to be a good way to bring in new ideas on how to sell books,” Lee tells Global News.

Troubador Books and Records owner Tom Lee prepares to wrap a book. Mike Le Couteur / Global News

Every week or so, Lee takes out a large roll of light brown paper and wraps several books. It’s like preparing Christmas gifts, but instead of ribbon, he ties them with string and attaches a tag giving shoppers a few clues, such as “a couple of themes or symbolism involved in the book,” Lee explains.

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Lee then writes “‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ in big felt marker on the cover,” he says, and adds a quote from the book for potential readers.

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The actual wrapping takes a few minutes, but researching the quote and the other clues is a little more laborious.

At first, some customers were taken aback by the idea, but Lee says most of the books are award winners or works that have been shortlisted for prizes.

The only investment shoppers have to make is $10 and the willingness to get outside their comfort zone. If they really don’t like what they unwrap, Lee will exchange it for something else.

“A lot of the feedback I got is people coming in, [saying]: ‘Thanks for doing this because it’s a book that I wouldn’t have read it myself, I wouldn’t have picked it,'” says Lee.
Ottawa readers are adding a little mystery to their book shopping by opting for a book whose cover they haven’t seen. Mike Le Couteur / Global News

It’s part mystery, part marketing with a goal of preventing people from judging a book by its cover — something that is increasingly more difficult in a world in which you can look up book reviews on your smartphone within seconds.

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“You know the internet is good for uncovering information, but there’s no spirit of adventure to it. There’s no sense of discovery,” Lee says.

He’s hoping people will rediscover that spirit of adventure, one book at a time.

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