Tag Archives: book buying

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.

 

 

Bookies!

I have held many nicknames during the course of my (relatively) short life so far. My family rarely refer to me by my real name, and my friends only do so if they want to grab my attention, or if I’ve misbehaved in some way. Going through school, I had a collection of nicknames which I could pick and choose to suit my mood; one of these was Xena the Warrior Princess. I can’t imagine why.

I am a being of sweetness and LIGHT, dammit! Image: libertytech.com

I am a being of sweetness and LIGHT, dammit!
Image: libertytech.com

I have just decided – as of this morning – that I now have a new nickname. I shall henceforth refer to myself, the second I cross the threshold of a bookshop, as ‘The Bookie Monster.’

My slight addiction to books is, of course, news to none of you. However, a new and worrying aspect of my life as the Bookie Monster has recently raised its ugly head. I’m talking about the complete absence of rationality, intelligence and reasoned decision-making that seems to sweep over me the second books are anywhere in view.

An example? Oh, all right then.

The other day, I was in a bookshop. This hasn’t happened in a while, so I guess I was full of pent-up book anxiety, trying to keep myself under control so that I didn’t empty entire shelves and slam them down in front of the bemused cashier.

Image: sweetmarie-83.blogspot.com

Image: sweetmarie-83.blogspot.com

I think, on the whole, I managed to control myself. I purchased the grand total of three books – one for me, one as a gift for a friend, and another as a replacement copy of a book which I have unaccountably lost, or which I’ve given to someone and forgotten about. The book I bought for myself is one I’ve been waiting to read for months (of which more in tomorrow’s Book Review blog), and the gift book doesn’t count as a book purchase, as it was a token of affection. (I’m sure this is a law, somewhere.)

But then we come to the replacement copy of the book which was lost.

I bought the wrong one.

I bought the wrong one! Can you imagine? I suffered some sort of brain fizz/meltdown/short-out as I gazed at the shelf, and I picked up a copy of ‘Coraline’ instead of ‘Stardust.’

Any excuse. Image: myhappybitsandpieces.blogspot.com

Any excuse.
Image: myhappybitsandpieces.blogspot.com

My copy of ‘Stardust’ has been AWOL for a while now. I could have loaned it to someone, or perhaps it has been lost in one of the many house moves I’ve taken part in over the years. Perhaps some nefarious creature has stolen it from me. In any case, I noticed it was missing a few months ago when I was in the middle of admiring my Gaiman collection, and the wound its absence caused me was a grievous one. I can’t be without it, because when it comes to authors like Neil Gaiman and Jeanette Winterson and John Connolly and Angela Carter and others I love without question, I am a bit of a completist. (If anyone out there has my copy of ‘Stardust’ and wishes to return it, by the way, I am hereby calling an amnesty. Return it now, and no questions will be asked. Or, at least, remind me that I gave it to you, so that my anxiety can come to an end.)

I can’t explain why my brain shorted out when I saw the Gaiman shelf in this particular bookshop (it was the Gutter Bookshop, one of my favourite places in the world – if ever you’re in Dublin, check it out); perhaps ‘Stardust’ was sitting on it, looking at me, willing me to buy it, but my eye fell on ‘Coraline’ and my fate was sealed. I genuinely believed it was ‘Coraline’ I needed, and I was thrilled to have found a copy which was exactly the same as the edition I had ‘lost.’ I gladly took it to the till. I gleefully handed over my money, delighted that my Gaiman collection was now, once more, complete.

And then I brought the book home and realised its twin was sitting on the shelf. The loss of ‘Stardust’ hit me once again, with twice as much force as before. I also realised I was a proper idiot for mixing up the two books in the first place, and I questioned my right to call myself a Neil Gaiman fan. That was a bit of an existentialist crisis, and no mistake.

Anyway, I have found a home for my second copy of ‘Coraline’, and so a modicum of balance has been restored to the world. My search for ‘Stardust’, however, continues. And, the next time I set foot inside a bookshop, I will make an even greater effort to keep my brain from jumping at the first pretty book it sees…

This is the Bookie Monster, signing off at the end of another busy week. Happy Friday, everyone!

Image: shelversanon.blogspot.com

Image: shelversanon.blogspot.com

Reality Check

I’ve written before on this blog of my passion for encouraging literacy, particularly among children; if I had my way, every child on this planet would be exposed to books at as early an age as possible. If there was one thing I could do – given unlimited power and funds – it would be to equip every child in the world with their own mini-library, and with the skills to read it. I truly feel that one of the most useful things we can do for our future generations is to ensure they can read as well as they are able, and that they read as widely as possible.

Of course, there are children who just don’t like to read – that’s sad, but it’s a fact. However, they should, at least, be given the opportunity to read, and encouraged to try, and exposed to as many different types of book as possible, just in case something might engage their imagination and spark off their interest. I have a belief – and it may be a naive and silly belief, but it’s mine just the same – that there is a book for every child.

A sight that gladdens my heart... Image: shannonbrown.typepad.com

A sight that gladdens my heart…
Image: shannonbrown.typepad.com

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to put this belief into practice. I was in a bookshop – one with which I’m long familiar, and which I can never resist dipping into if I’m close enough to visit it – and I was, of course, browsing intently in the children’s section. A young mother approached me, her six-year-old daughter in tow, and asked me my opinion on what she should purchase for her little girl to read.

I’m not sure if she thought I was a staff member, or if it was a case of ‘once a bookseller, always a bookseller’ and she caught the whiff of enthusiastic knowledge from me, but whatever the reason for her question, I was happy to help. I learned this lady was the mother of a ten-year-old, the six-year-old I had the pleasure of meeting, and a four-year-old, all girls. The eldest child was a strong and enthusiastic reader, she told me, but the others struggled. They found it hard to emulate their sister, and found themselves bored by a lot of the books they’d tried in the past. They liked ‘funny’ books, and were growing tired of the princessy-type, pink and glitter books that they had once loved.

I threw my eyes around the shelves, and came up with a few ideas. Andy Stanton’s ‘Mr Gum’ books were my first suggestion, followed by Francesca Simon’s ‘Horrid Henry’ series (enthusiastically grabbed by the six-year-old); for the older girls, I thought of Jeremy Strong’s ‘There’s a Viking in my Bed!’ and the wonderful books of David Walliams, which are funny but also sweet and uplifting, with a comforting focus on love and friendship and family, so important to young readers. I think the lady was touched by my efforts and glad of the suggestions, and I certainly appreciated being asked for help.

Image: waterstones.com

Image: waterstones.com

However, as pleased as I was to have helped these young readers to find something good to exercise their brains, there was one aspect of the situation that has been on my mind ever since, and it centres on the fact that the bookshop we happened to be in was one that deals exclusively in second-hand books. The reason I like to go there so often is because I always find new authors to follow and new series to start collecting, and it’s fantastic to dig around in the piles of books and uncover some lost classics and rarities. It’s also wonderful to be able to pick up a book for less money than it would be if I bought it new – but with a view, always, to purchasing the writer’s back catalogue in a ‘proper’ bookshop if I like what I buy second-hand. I discovered Catherine Fisher this way; I got heavily into Kate Thompson by browsing the shelves of this very shop. The same thing applies to Jenny Nimmo, who I adore, and most of whose books I have subsequently purchased new. Sometimes, I don’t mind buying books second-hand if the author is deceased, or if their work is out of copyright – then, I don’t feel like I’m dipping my hand into a fellow writer’s pocket and taking their earnings from them – but normally I try to purchase books new as often as I can. Not everyone feels this way, for a variety of reasons – some of them excellent, unassailably logical reasons.

The mother of these young readers, for instance, was enthusiastic about second-hand books not because they were a gateway to new writers and their back catalogues, but because of their cheapness and relative ‘disposability’; it’s always easier to give a book away, or not to mind if it gets wet or torn or dirty, if you didn’t buy it ‘new’. I can’t blame the lady for thinking this way – as important as it is for children to read, it’s also important for them to have shoes and clothes and school uniforms and food, of course, and I can completely understand why new books would slide down a parent’s list of priorities. But, as an aspiring writer, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of pain at the thought.

Every book bought second-hand benefits, in financial terms, nobody but the person selling it; the author gets nothing. If a book is borrowed in a library, at least the author gets a tiny fraction of a payment for it. It’s tough, realising that something which benefits readers so much (i.e. second-hand book purchasing) can be such a bad thing from a writer’s point of view, but that is the reality of the world we live in. I do not judge the lady I helped for her choice, particularly because I also frequent second-hand bookshops (though I do try to support the authors I love as much as I can); I just hope that, perhaps, encouraging children to read when they’re young will turn them into not only enthusiastic consumers of books, but also enthusiastic supporters of writers when they grow older, thereby ensuring there will always be a flow of new books to read. I also hate reducing the whole ‘book creation-book consumption’ thing to crass economic terms, but that’s a reality, too. Writers need to earn a living, however meagre, and that’s becoming harder and harder with every passing year.

It’s important to clearly state that of course I believe it’s more important to encourage children to read than it is to ensure they only read from brand-new books – literacy concerns trump all else – but thoughts of ‘what will become of writers?’ have been playing on my mind since my encounter with this lady, nonetheless. I’d love to hear your opinions on this, if you have any. If you buy your books in hard copy, do you like to browse in second-hand shops? What’s your thinking on the economic issues I’ve laid out here? Do tell.

Happy Tuesday! And, naturally, I hope you’re reading, no matter where you bought your book.