Not London Book Week ~ reflections on the book industry (part one)
I didn’t go to London Book Week.
I didn’t go to the Indie Fringe event, either, though I made half-hearted plans to go and meet friends. I wavered so long I missed the window of opportunity to get cheaper rail tickets that might have made the whole thing a little less harsh on the wallet. Then, on April Fool’s Day (of course) I yawned, stretched and forthwith popped my shoulder out. It popped back in again, leaving me with enough pain to warrant the Big Guns of pain control that mean I don’t dare leave the house for fear of wandering aimlessly into oncoming traffic, or of seeing giant scorpions in alleyways. If I stay home when I take them, I can at least ask family if what I am seeing is real and if it is, I can valiantly sacrifice myself to save them because I can’t run as fast as they can. It took the best part of a fortnight for the pain to recede enough to return to normal levels of baseline pain, and the idea of using sparse energy to trog all the way into the capital to an event that (apart from meeting friends) simply failed to thrill me, was not one that seemed appropriate.
I did however go into an actual book shop during that time and I bought a few actual books. Go me, eh? I was in Lincoln for the day, and having bought a selection of fossils and minerals in a rather wonderful shop, I found the new independent bookshop Lindum and bought two books. I then managed to leave them behind just as the shop closed and for a short time, felt it was perhaps a small sacrifice to atone for my sinful use of Amazon to buy books. You see, while talking to the very nice store owner, I used the taboo A word a couple of times, and we briefly discussed it. That’s to say, she told me how Amazon was basically responsible for destroying book shops, and I (too much of a coward) listened and nodded in an understanding way.
You see, while I love books, I don’t actually love bookshops any more. Even the excellent independent ones like the one in Lincoln or the even more wonderful Book Hive in Norwich. The rot set in really when the supermarkets started selling books. Books heaped up like so many rectangular apples and oranges in pyramids of paper, pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap. Good, I say. The arrival of the paperback was heralded as the end of books, but it actually made books accessible to readers previously unable to buy highly priced tomes. Books are a luxury when you struggle to feed the family. Most books sold this way aren’t ones that will change your life, but they might give you an escape from reality for a few hours or days, depending on the length of book and how fast you read. And some of the time, that’s all anyone wants of a book.
However in response to the perceived threat of online stores like Amazon, many bookshops have gone into what I call “precious mode” where books become something with a mystique, the province of the special something, magical, almost elite, and it feels as if they have forgotten that they, just like Amazon, are purveyors of a PRODUCT. Their piles may not be of common apples and oranges, but of exotic dragon fruit and pomegranates and acai berries and so on. And the prices reflect this too. They remind you that you are here in this temple of Bookishness to partake of superior fare to the cheap and cheerful sold by Amazon and supermarkets. You can’t have it both ways: bookshops of all kinds, real and virtual, are ALL aiming to persuade the punters to purchase something, whether it’s for a penny plus post and packing (I buy a lot of second-hand books that way) or brand new, in a sumptuous dust-cover inscribed in gold ink and promising glories within.
Would you like to know what books did tempt me to open my purse and part with hard earned cash?
There wasn’t anything on offer that I felt I could justify the £15 or more for the rather lovely looking but totally unfamiliar book on bee-keeping, or on the history of herbal medicine or the thousand page novel in hardback, (its name and the author’s name now escape me). I wanted a book to sit and read while I waited for my coach home; I didn’t want to buy into a literary extravaganza that might well have been more smoke and mirrors than substance. So my selection for just over a fiver were two Wordsworth Classic paperbacks: Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Dante’s Inferno.