I love bookshops.
No really. I absolutely love them. Working in central London is great because there are a multitude of them, they open late, there are chains and specialists, and if I find myself with some time on my hands, then they’re the obvious place to go.
I like to visit at least every week – if only to see what new titles are out. Now unlike CDs and DVDs which are all released on a Monday, or video games which are released on Fridays, there’s no specific day for new books to come out. If there was, that’d be the day I went.
Instead books seem to drift into shops – sometimes well ahead of publication dates, other times well after them depending on how speedy the warehouse operation has been.
Keeping up with new titles is fascinating.
But going to bookshops at this time of year is depressing. We’re in the run up to Christmas and some vast proportion of book sales are sold in the two or three months before Christmas. That is, they’re sold to people who never otherwise wander into a bookshop. As a result, the shelves are heaving with books by “celebrities” – a number of whom have possibly not even read their own works. Then there are books from TV chefs, the “hilarious” comedy titles all hoping to be this year’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves or whatever, Doctor Who annuals, TV tie-in titles, the Guinness Book of Records ad nauseum.
The shelves that used to be full of interesting new fiction or non-fiction titles, are now stuffed with this dross. These books’ RRPs are all vastly inflated so that the supermarkets and chains can sell them at 50% discounts and still get a reasonable sum for them.
Gone are the more interesting fiction paperbacks that might otherwise has piqued your interest; something you read about when it came out in hardback that you’d quite like to try. Of the Booker shortlist, only the winner is in evidence, but a stack of Martina Cole books overwhelm it.
Then there are all the calendars. They’re all dreadful and hideously over-priced. And they take up valuable real-estate in the bookshop.
I understand that bookshops need to have successful Christmases – indeed the whole High Street sector is suffering at the moment, and I’d hate to see a chain go under. But I do feel that I, as a regular and important customer who spends a lot of money all year round on books, that I’m actually being chased away at this time of the year. Amazon’s no better with the same cash-in titles by comedians, most of whom are “penning” autobiographies while they’re still in their twenties or early thirties.
Am I a book snob? Probably. Not as snobbish as some by a long shot (Oh, what a shame that there’s only one more episode of Ed Reardon left in this series. Series 2 out to buy next week). But I feel that my book buying and browsing has been rudely interrupted. For the next two months I’m going to see the same titles in the same places in all the shops. Then after Christmas, Waterstones and Borders will discount precisely those titles – especially the ones that didn’t sell despite the publishers’ massive advances, and their appearances on the now little watched Richard and Judy).
Perhaps I need to go somewhere else for my book habit?
I love bookshops.