When Is A Bookshop Not A Bookshop?
…When it’s my home. And only one of many bookcases, I’m afraid. It’s a minor compulsion and nearly under control; I can deal with it.
The habit starts young. My mother had a cavalier disregard for books; she’d plough through them, bending corners, filling them with crumbs, dropping them in the bath, using a fag-end as a bookmark. She’d have made a fine bohemian. I grew up with the same louche attitude and I suppose I assumed that everyone else did. I was so wrong.
When I first moved into my old house a suspicious neighbour came to call on me. She had babies and small children clinging from every part of her, all with names that ended in ‘Y’, Joey, Johnny, Bunny, Billy and Eddy. After checking that I wasn’t a police officer (the corner pub was used by coppers) she put me through a vetting process that stalled pretty quickly after she narrowed her eyes and asked what was in all them boxes coming in.
‘Books,’ I explained.
‘What you wan’ all them for?’ she asked. ‘Surely one’s enough?’
I explained that I enjoyed reading them. She put her arms protectively around her progeny. ‘Well I don’t want my kids around ’em.’
We did not become close friends. Soon after, the first of her children hit sixteen and went straight to whatever it is they call Borstal now. The others followed suit as soon as they were old enough.
I’m bothered by people who regard books with such deep suspicion. I once asked a woman reading ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ what she thought of it and she told me it was amazing, fantastic. She also volunteered the information that it was the first book she’d ever read.
‘So, what are you going to read next?’ I asked.
‘I’m just going to read this one again,’ she replied happily.
Apparently some people are scared to go into bookshops. My publicist told me that they’re happy to buy books in WH Smith because it’s like Woolworths used to be, and just happens to sell books too, but Waterstones is too posh because it has armchairs and nice lighting and you must be an intellectual to go in there.
The funny thing is that the people buying books in WH Smith bought many more books than the ones in Waterstones. And yet they didn’t think of themselves as readers. ‘Oh, I just buy trash,’ said one, embarrassed. She was reading Robert Harris – hardly trash. These people were asked; ‘If shops were celebrities, what would WH Smith and Waterstones be?’ They decided that WH Smith was Jeremy Clarkson and Waterstones was…Nigel Havers (which says something about their age).
Waterstones are now allowing their managers to adapt stores to their catchment areas, to make them homelier and more friendly. God forbid we start to think reading is for the posh – we’ll be turning back the clock 200 years!