As a child I read everything I could get my hands on. I did a degree in English literature, reading is one of my main leisure activities, I’ll buy books as my occasional luxury when money is tight, and buy them a lot when it isn’t. I buy books as gifts for other people, I write books, review books. They are at the heart of my life. But I hate bookshops, and have come to the conclusion that perhaps I need to air this.
Walk into a bookstore. The front tables are laden with shiny things. Celebrity books and TV spinoffs frequently dominate. I want to buy books. I don’t have a TV and have no interest in the vast majority of celebrities, so seeing this kind of thing on paper makes me feel sad and like I’m in the wrong place.
Then there are the coffee table books, and ok, some of them are pretty, but on the whole I don’t want a big display item, I live in a small space. I’m looking for richness, depth content, you know, the stuff you get in books?
Move along. There are the gift-cum-toilet-reads. The sort of thing you had over as presents to people you don’t know well enough to be confident of what they’d like. I’ve been bought them down the years. Loosely funny, light on content, destined to provide light relief in your toilet. Not actual content though, or a story or any of that other stuff. I’ll pass on those, if you’ll excuse the pun.
Eventually I will get past all of these sources of misery, to the book shelves. I may venture to pick up a few books and read the backs. The trouble is, I don’t want a thing that is basically a rip off of the last big hit, and I don’t want a story I can predict from reading the blurb or the first paragraph and so I drift onwards, past the stand of comic books that is 90% men in tights thumping each other and 9% Tokyo Pop. The 1% of good stuff is copies of things I already own. Sometimes, in the non-fic section when I get past the TV books and the famous people, there’s something I want to take home. Mostly by this point I want to sit down in the aisle and weep at the sheer, unutterable tragedy of it all.
I want to buy books. I love books. Bookshops make me want to cry. Surely as someone who wishes to buy books, I am the bloody target market? Except apparently I’m not. But I wonder a thing… do the people who love celebrities and TV stuff actually buy that many books? Because book shops keep closing and generally the internet is getting the blame, but, there’s a thing… When I go online I can get niche content, small publisher content, books I want to read. Is it the fault of the internet that the majority of books in book shops are not the ones I want to buy? I wonder if perhaps it isn’t, and the whole assumption about who wants to buy what, and what will sell, and where the ‘sure fire hits’ are coming from may be wrong. Am I the only book lover being turned off by what’s actually available?
This is why I feel moved to speak up, because perhaps it’s not just me, and perhaps some noise can beget change. Worth a shot, I feel.