Never Judge A Reader By His Covers

Observatory, Reading & Writing, The Arts

This morning, my local Tesco appears to have gone entirely automated overnight, with no staff on tills. Everything is now operated by card and machine – leading to the first really spectacular nicking spree I’ve seen, when a young man legged it from the store with a trolley of booze. The staff looked on, bored, then forgot about it.

Perhaps bookshops will become automated. Or perhaps they can start planning new ways of making money. Why aren’t bookstalls gathered in central locations instead of being scattered about cities? It’s a browsing activity that works better when there’s a bigger choice, and rents would be easier to negotiate. Plus, bookstalls are great levellers.

And why do middle-class bookshops exude such an air of arrogance? One of my neighbours tells me she uses Amazon instead of bookstores because ‘they can’t judge what I read’.

Silly as it sounds, I know what she means. There are bookshops I avoid for precisely that reason. My reading range is broad and I’m likely to buy a David Mitchell, a Kate Atkinson and a Viz annual at the same time. I don’t care what anyone else thinks, it’s what I want to read. But there can be a dreadful air of piety in bookshops. It’s why the comedy series ‘Black Books’ was so funny.

So perhaps – partiularly for the young – automation removes the perception that you’re being judged, and that applies to music and movies too.

15 comments on “Never Judge A Reader By His Covers”

  1. Anne Fernie says:

    It’s not only bookshops (although I’ve noticed it there too). I was talking about this just the other day after I’d been to a wholefood co-op in a ‘nice’ area of town. The air of virtuosity was palpable as the till queue eyed each other’s bags of haricot beans and bran, noses aloft. I had this overwhelming urge to stick a fag behind my ear and walk round munching a McDonald’s whilst being very aware of my own cultural schizophrenia – which ‘tribe’ do I belong to – more often than not the people with whom I should identify most just irritate the life out of me…….

  2. Lou Morgan says:

    Growing up in a small farming town, for years we only had a WHSmiths as our bookshop (which seemed to do a roaring trade in Catherine Cookson and little else) until we got an Ottakars, which was a revelation, particularly to a teenage me! Here were people who cared about the books they sold and who – if they liked the look of something you were buying – would talk to you about it. It was tiny, but it was welcoming, and every time I wander into a bookshop, I think about that first one where I was a regular (and where the manager was apparently particularly fond of books with blue covers).

    On another note, is that picture Livraria Lello in Porto? I’ve never been, but a friend went recently and came back with lots of photos of it: it looks remarkable.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    It’s tagged as a “sexy bookstore”, but it’s the kind of place that would terrify me. If the store sells a book, they shouldn’t sneer at those who buy it. Clerks often don’t identify with the place where they work and that’s understandable if they don’t care about what the store sells, but it is a bit of cold water to an enthusiastic shopper.

  4. BangBang!! says:

    My wife works extremely hard and for stupidly long hours and all she wants to read is something that allows her to veg out. I sometimes buy her said books and often get the most condescending of looks. Now admittedly I’m a 6’1″ bald bloke with quite a few tattoos but if I wanted to read a bit of chick lit then that is up to me. Despite appearances I’m a very laid back guy but I have occasionally felt the need to say rather abrubtly “It’s for my wife.” It makes me feel bad and ruins what should be a pleasant experience.

  5. Steve says:

    Sort of reminds me when Di’s brother, the Earl of Sodleroy or whatever he’s called, asked where we were from. When we said “Oklahoma”, his response was “Yessss…..” and he somehow managed to pack “Why am I not surprised” and “It figures” into that one word. I suppose that sort of thing is what’s learned at posh schools? Dunno.

  6. BangBang!! says:

    No – he’s just an inbred *expletive deleted* who has no idea of the world outside his little priviledged bubble and really doesn’t want to know. Well done for annoying him!!

  7. Steve says:


  8. Helen Martin says:

    Possibly true, BangBang!! but it could be that his geography is very weak and he has no idea where Oklahoma is. Has never seen the musical, either?!

  9. Steve says:

    Oh please please please, NO SINGING!

  10. Helen Martin says:

    Oh, what a beautiful morning!

  11. Kim says:

    Strange, I love it when they look at my choices oddly, it gives me a real sense of amusement! Then I can look at them and smile in that I-know-you’re-judging-me-but-I-don’t-care kinda way, and they get all flustered and embarrassed.

    And although it certainly tends to be cheaper to buy books online, there’s nothing like being able to go out and come home with the book physically in your hands.

  12. Helen Martin says:

    It’s Dec. 7th, so Happy Birthday, Steve.

  13. Steve says:

    Thanks Helen!

  14. Steve says:

    Oh, and I meant no singing “Oklahoma”. Taxi drivers in London have a bad habit of doing so once they’ve been told where we’re from. Fortunately however not really an issue anymore as we’ve re-located to Washington State.
    I don’t THINK there are any songs about that…..I hope….

  15. Helen Martin says:

    Louie, Louie! Louie-looee! I kid you not.

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