Surprised by Books

This weekend, we spend some time with dear friends (and their darling little girl), which was very book-centric in the best possible way. I am far from being the only writer they know – and I’m very much on the bottom rung of the ladder of success in comparison to the others – and we are all big readers (including the darling little girl, of course). So, we talked about agents and book deals and academia and thesis-writing and books we love and Jane Austen and books for children and a whole heap of fabulousness.

Over the course of all this chit-chat, a book token was given by them to my husband as a gift. ‘There’s a bookshop in (local town)’, they told us. ‘And it’s open on Sundays. And there’s plenty of parking.’

Well.

We took our leave, and we trucked on down to this local town, and we sniffed out the bookshop, and – inevitably, dear readers – we went in.

We’d been warned that it only had a ‘small’ children’s section down at the back, so I was expecting maybe one bay of books, or a couple of shelves. However, I was met instead by five full bays, with more displays on the floor, and a whole wall of children’s picture books. This, of course, was ignoring the rest of the shop, which was just as cool. I immediately glued myself to the section in which I am most at home while my beloved went rummaging in the non-fiction sections.

But wait. Are you ready for this bit?

Between special offers and the generally excellent prices, I managed to purchase three books for the princely sum of twenty euro fifty cent, including (finally!) a replacement copy of my missing Stardust; now, my Gaiman collection is once more complete. Twenty euro! For three books! I practically danced to the register.

I was blown away not only by the great selection of books, the size of the children’s and YA section, the general appearance of the shop and the helpfulness of the staff, but also by the prices. I’m not a person who balks at the cost of books – I firmly believe they are objects worthy of a little expense (which is why I don’t buy very many any more, unfortunately) and that the knock-down prices offered by certain vendors, both online and off, are doing extraordinary harm to the book industry. Perhaps that’s a naïve viewpoint, but it’s mine, and it’s formed from years of experience. So, I like to buy books at full price where possible, in a bookshop – preferably, like this one was, an independent – and I don’t care that it costs more. For me, when it comes to book purchasing, cost is the least important factor, and I try to cut my coat to suit my cloth – in other words, I only buy books I really want, when I can. If I can’t afford something, I don’t even consider running to a piracy website and downloading an illegal free copy (because it’s infringing my ‘right to read’, apparently, to have copyright on books and actually, shock horror, charge money for them), or even downloading a legal, but dirt-cheap, copy; I just don’t feel that’s giving a fair deal to the people who worked hard to bring that book to the marketplace. If I can’t afford a book, I wait until I can. If a shop doesn’t have a book in stock, I wait for it to come in.

I think, sometimes, we’ve lost the art of waiting for stuff.

I’ve been looking for a copy of Stardust for ages – it’s funny how, even though Neil Gaiman is a writing superstar, not all his books are easy to find – but I wanted one, and so I persevered. Unfortunately the one I now have is the movie tie-in edition, which is a bit annoying because it makes me seem like an ‘ooh, look! There’s a lovely shiny movie! Let’s get the book and pretend we’ve been fans all along!’ type…

Ta-daa!

Ta-daa!

…but it’s better than being Stardust-less, and so I take what I can get. I will always miss my original copy, though, with its lovely (albeit Claire Danes-lite) cover art.

Gosh. Well this post started off being about the wonder of an undiscovered bookshop and has sort of devolved into a mini-rant about fair book pricing and copyright theft; I don’t mean to preach or sound ‘worthy’ or make anyone feel bad for their choices, so I’ll wrap it up here. My choices are mine, and I don’t judge anyone else for theirs (except those terrible people who run piracy websites and the equally terrible people who buy books from them while knowing they’re not sanctioned); I just worry about the future of the book industry, and my future choices as a consumer. I don’t want to live in a world without bookshops which take your breath away when you walk into them, and where just the right book is sitting, waiting for you to take it home. I don’t want to be a reader in a world where our only choice is to download the text to a screen. I don’t want to feel like, with every book I read, I’m hurting the industry and making writers work for nothing.

I’ll comfort myself with the thought that the bookshop we spent a happy hour in yesterday was full for most of the time we were there, and that our modest purchases were far from being the only ones put through the register. I hope, though, that our speed-obsessed, have-it-now society will start to slow down a little and realise that there are things worth waiting for, and worth paying a fair price for. Books, I feel, should definitely be included in those categories.

 

 

4 thoughts on “Surprised by Books

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thanks, Jan. I really don’t like the modern notion that books are ‘expendable’; worthless things which can be discarded thoughtlessly, and which should be no more valuable than a paper tissue. I hope we can rebuild the idea that books are worth having, and worth treasuring. Thanks for your comment! 🙂

      Reply

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