Saturday, August 15, 2009

Book rant

I've not had a good rant here for a while, and seeing as Marcosy has once again been harassing me for not having written anything for a few days (I swear he's not happy unless there's a new post at least once a day), I thought I'd go with this (also because it's been swirling around in my brain for a while so I think it's probably wise to get it out before my head explodes).

A few weeks back Sparky Ma and I decided to head out on one of our infamous shopping expeditions to Kingston. I didn't actually need to buy anything, but I know it makes Sparky Ma happy when I do spend unnecessarily, so I thought I'd put together a list of a few books I liked the sound of. I didn't particularly need any new books, because my book stack was already pretty big, and I'm reading a rather epic novel as it is, but I like buying books, so I figured rather than buy them as and when I needed them from Amazon (where they're cheaper, I might add), I'd buy them in a shop and get a nice carrier bag to keep Sparky Ma happy.

From a rather large list, I whittled it down to three books I wanted to buy:


And so, bright and early one Saturday morning, off we trotted. Well, actually, we drove - but you get the gist.

There are two dedicated bookshops in Kingston: Waterstones and Borders. I hit-up Waterstones first. Neither King Dork nor A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius were anywhere to be found, but as both are two years old I didn't necessarily find this terribly surprising; disappointing, yes, surprising, no. I was trained from a very young age to be prepared for disappointment while shopping; not once did I burst into tears when the toy shop didn't have the Thunder Punch He-Man figure I so desperately wanted.

Where was I? Ah yes - two down, one to go. I soon found myself looking on the alphabetically-arranged shelves for a copy of Tomas, and after hunting high and low (like A-Ha) I found it. I grabbed it and looked down at it … only to find that someone had spilt blue ink all across the cover at some point before it was put on the shelf. I looked back at the shelf thinking I'd just grab a different copy, only to discover that this was the sole copy of Tomas in the shop.

So let's get this straight: this was the one and only copy in this shop of a very recently released, critically-acclaimed novel … and it was covered in ink.

This is the point where you'd think I should've rushed up to a member of staff and asked for some money off, but I don't do that with books. Books are something I cherish. I always look for the most perfect copy of a book before buying it. Of course, it's then totally my decision if I want to break the spine, sneeze in it, or hurl ink across the cover, but at the moment of purchase it has to be *perfect.*

I put the book back on the shelf and stormed off, thinking I'd just get it in Borders. If a member of Waterstones' staff had been nearby and I'd just happened to be wearing a cape I would've been tempted to swoosh it dramatically across my shoulder before shouting theatrically "I SHALL TAKE MY CUSTOM ELSEWHERE!" while also noting with something approaching disgust that it's just plain weird that Waterstones, the book-selling division of the HMV chain, now sells Nintendo DS consoles and the top 10 DVDs.

Cut to Borders.

In Borders I headed straight for the 'E's. That's the alphabetical listing of the bookshelves, I should add, and not any illegal uppers that might have been on offer. After locating 'Eggers, Dave' I clapped my hands together like a special when I saw there were three copies of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius on the shelf. Sparky Ma always taught me to choose a copy from the back, so I slid the first two books forward and reached for the one at the rear. Holding it in my hands, though, I noticed that all the corners were a bit mashed up, so I popped it back and took the next one. This one looked like it'd been chewed by a dog, so I put that one down as well, ultimately violating Sparky Ma's golden rule of not taking the first one on the shelf by taking the first one on the shelf. That one had a torn back cover and dirt on it. WTF?!

I put that one back and decided that I'd just go find Tomas instead (King Dork wasn't available here, either). Unfortunately, the only thing awaiting me at the 'P's was crushing disappointing: there was not one copy of Tomas on the shelf. Outrageous. I decided to console myself by looking at the graphic novels; Borders in Kingston has one of the best graphic novel sections I know.

The graphic novel section, however, appeared to have been hit by a bomb. Books were lying everywhere like little wounded paper soldiers. Some were on the floor, others, shoved haphazardly on the shelves with no apparent consideration for a) the condition of the book, or b) any sense of order. I looked around in desperate hope that I might see one of those annoying children you find every now and again in book shops - you know, the ones that decide they're going to pull all the books off the shelf and then put them back in a prettier fashion using the colour of the spine to make a rainbow pattern or something. That sort of thing usually winds me up something chronic, but here that kid could be a hero!

There were no children available, however, so instead I just stormed out. Again. Oh, but not before using Borders' free wi-fi to order both Tomas and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius from Amazon using my iPhone. Both books turned up in pristine condition a couple of days later, and I saved myself £5.59 in the process.

So this is what's erking me. I was really well up for spending more than I needed to buy these books, purely because I wanted the experience of buying them in a real bookshop. But no. It seems the only thing you can buy in a book shop these days that doesn't look like it's been trashed by a wild animal is a DVD of Twilight or the latest Katie Price 'opus.' Ugh. Yes, yes, I know we're in the midst of a recession and the shops probably don't want to hold too much older stock (i.e. anything that the ink has actually had time to dry on, aside from Waterstones' sole copy of Tomas) and they're facing increased competition from online sellers like Amazon, but the impression I get these days is that they just want to make some excuses before rolling over and dying.

I love buying books in shops - I've discovered so many books and authors I love simply by browsing the shelfs - but if bookshops aren't going to offer the choice or justify their higher prices with a decent, passionate service then quite frankly they deserve to go the way of the dinosaurs, the dodo, and Woolworths.

I discovered recently that Borders are closing about five of their UK stores including their flagship Oxford Street branch. And while I'll miss that towering edifice of books in central London, to be quite honest the last time I went in there it looked like a shanty town. Thank god the Kingston branch isn't closing because I love that shop. Of course, I loved it more when it stayed open late and I could stroll in around eight o'clock, buy a book, then start reading it over a coffee in the in-store Starbucks (hint hint); it closes at seven now, meaning that by the time I get there after work I'm just about in time to see them locking the doors.

What I'm getting at, then, is that I want to see these shops working harder for my money, particularly at this time. It's kind of like training a dog, I suppose; if they work harder, I'll reward them by giving them a chocolate drop my money. If they don't, I'll quite happily give it to the Amazonians.

Rant over. Now, if you'll excuse me I have a large stack of books I need to get through.

5 comments:

Ponita in Real Life said...

LOL at He-Man! I haven't heard of him in, oh, a couple of decades. ;-)

Books in bookstores trashed?? That is verging on sacrilegious!!!

Inexplicable DeVice said...

That reminds me: I must watch Farenheit 451. I recorded it ages ago on V+ but have yet to watch it.

Like you, I love browsing in book stores and usually end up making an impulse purchase, but I tend to buy the books I really want online.

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Tara said...

If you and your mom shopped with me and my mom, they would both encourage us to spend all of our money and head straight into bankrupcy.

The next time a bookstore doesn't have what you're looking for or there's a mess in the graphic novel section, just whack it on the nose with some rolled up newspaper and wave a finger at it saying "Bad bookstore! Bad!" Course I don't know what the nose of a bookstore would look like.

Tim said...

Ponita - I know, outrageous isn't it!? And get used to He-Man, I think another movie is being made!!

Inexplicable Device - Are you still using video tapes? Or do you just take lots of polaroids of the television and then assemble them into a flick book?

Januskiez - No, not really.

Tara - Or I could just find the nearest store assistant and whack them, seeing as they represent the shop. Can you imagine whacking someone with the latest Dan Brown novel? I might try that next time I'm there…!