Archive for the ‘Bestsellers’ category

This House Takes Note of the Cultural, Civic and Educational Significance of Libraries, Bookshops and Booksellers in the UK

October 15th, 2016

Weddings are usually associated with speeches, alcohol, dancing and laughter . This Thursday I attend my first House of Lords Debate. What associations does it leave me with? Speeches, symptoms of dehydration , eye-watering discomfort and shuffling disappointment.

While angels grip heraldic shields and black microphones bear witness in grids above, Lord Bird, who was ennobled after having launched and established the Big Issue, that dignifies homeless people, gives the chamber 15 minutes of lively, off-script, impassioned, looping anecdote touching on literacy in his past life.

It is followed by the fully scripted , slightly self congratulatory, cliche stuffed, red leather button-backed, middle of the road oratory, topped off with broken folk-dance defensive whitewash from Lord Ashton of Clyde.

For the first ever time in the UK, young people are now less literate than pensioners. But, having established the  importance of the book and the vulnerability of bookshops and libraries, where are the specific , costed suggestions for protecting them? In the absence of plans to improve the situation, calls for action are hollow and simply ignored. Amazon is rightly slammed, but they still owe UK billions in unpaid taxes.

No doubt the Earl Kinnoull’s Trust of Culture in Perth & Kinross, and the Bishop of St. Alban’s Rural Coalition have merit. Books Beyond Words, Cityread, the British Library, Books Are My Bag and many others are hugely worthwhile. What we are facing,though, is decimation of bookshops and libraries in the UK at a scale never before encountered. Unimaginable only ten years ago. Unacceptable to any UK citizen today.

How about Business Rate Reductions for Bookshops Not Bookies, as an initiative? Reduce Business Rates for all bookshops and increase them for all Pay-Day Loan Companies and Betting shops. Sadiq Khan, Philip Glanville, this is definitely one for you two.
How about new charities to seed-fund opening of new bookshops in the UK? Lord Bird and Baroness Rebuck, this is clearly one for you.

Both these suggestions would be fiscally neutral, and both readily achievable. Both would represent long-term solutions for the future- not populist knee-jerk reactions- but non-partisan frameworks for the benefit of all UK book lovers.

The libraries are already protected by law in the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act. Funding needs ring-fencing- our taxes legally cover this. The government absolutely needs challenging for its inexcusable non-enforcement of the law of this land in respect of public libraries. Lord Collins of Hyde, this is your responsibility.

There are no illuminated green exit signs in the Lords Chamber. But bookshops, booksellers and libraries are being unceremoniously elbowed into obsolescence, unless all the people who could possibly do something to stop books facing a bitterly unfair and disastrously bleak future please step forward.

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In France the state helps indie bookshops. In the UK it helps them out of business.

July 23rd, 2014

In France new laws have been passed to materially support independent bookshops, because bookshops are considered in France to be of cultural importance.

My bookshop in Old Street station in London has been in business for thirty years. But TfL, a state enterprise, have defied my pleas and given a six month lease to Moleskine in a shop virtually facing my own. Moleskine sell blank books and our bookshop has built up a significant trade in Moleskine blank books.   In a typical month Moleskine sales represent about 17.5% of our turnover. So  UK state intervention is effectively threatening the survival of our bookshop.

TfL allegedly has plans to close down our Old Street Station ticket office and to lease the space out to a Click and Collect centre, which will further threaten the survival of our independent bookshop.

What do you think about TfL’s decisions in this case?

Is it right that TfL should conduct its affairs in such a bullying fashion?

Jason’s Road trip

May 12th, 2014

I am Jason and I run a bookshop. On Thursday 8-5-2014 at about 07:56 I was bicycling to work on a route I have taken for the last 12 years. I live in Stoke Newington. I was travelling south on Whitmore Road where it becomes Pitfield Street. The light was normal but there was a slight drizzle or very light rain. As I passed the junction with Hoxton Street on my left, I noticed a car proceeding towards me very quickly. I was wearing high visibility, cycling waterproof top , black waterproof bottoms with reflective strips and a cycling helmet. It was clearly my right of way. Before I registered any danger I felt myself flying and landing on the road in excruciating pain. I howled loudly. I was spread-eagled on my front. I do not recollect losing consciousness. Opening my eyes, I saw that I had landed on a part of the pedestrian zebra crossing. I summoned all my energy to crawl or slither off the road in case another car struck me. As I was curling into the recovery position I heard someone asking if I was alright. I said “no”. I heard a voice saying “Call an ambulance”. I repeated the words “Call an ambulance”. I heard someone else saying “I am so sorry. I was rushing to take my daughter to school”. My eyes were closed. I was in agony. Minutes later someone in a green uniform said they were a passing paramedic and instructed me not to move. They went through some questions to assess my condition, which I was able to answer. Following that, the ambulance personnel took over. There was a process of maybe 15 minutes whereby I was supported into an ambulance. That was followed by a lengthy delay where a policeman asked me questions and finally supplied me with a small blue book of information about the accident. I was admitted to the casualty department of the Homerton Hospital. I spent about six or so hours undergoing constant checks and tests. I received an ultra sound and a CT scan on my abdomen. I was administered painkillers. I was advised to remain in hospital under observation for a further period of about 5 hours. I discharged myself and was taken home. I have been in constant pain since then. 48 hours later I have taken photos of my injuries. I am still in a state of shock. I have been told by the hospital consultant that my stomach muscles have been severely torn. My internal organs have been bruised and apart from that, I have suffered several skin abrasions on my face legs and hands and also further bruising. I cannot sleep without waking with pain. My lower intestines contort me in pain. I am using a walking stick, a sling, ice packs and have had a session of cranial osteopathy.

But I am now on the mend & hope to be back at work soon.

Today, I visited the book shop for an hour. It has been as if I had stepped into an alternative reality for four days and I’m now being allowed brief visits back to my old life…

A Man With a Button

February 10th, 2014

The tall man’s goatee beard that was tied in knots reminding me of boyhood images of Blackbeard. He was in his later middle-age and wore a hipster tweed suit that struck me as somewhat incongruous. His softly spoken brogue and complimentary good manners together with his broad range of highly literate book purchases piqued my interest and respect.

When this customer gave me his cue, I was ready to engage with him. Though I really couldn’t have guessed where this was going…

He asked me to direct him to the nearby Google campus and I gave him directions; but I’d been slow to realize that he was teeing me up for a revelation.

“I am the inventor” of the button that will bring the smell of books to all future e-readers,  he explained; and,  when my mouth dropped open, he went on,  ”I am a perfumer”.

He proceeded to sing the praises of the smell of the books in Trinity College Library, Dublin; “an olfactory delight”, was his measured appraisal.

I was part spellbound by his enthusiasm, part amazed by his eccentricity, but wholly amazed that he truly foresaw a future for his book smell button.

It’s true that I had once come across an antiquarian bookseller who regularly put his beaky nose deep into the pages of any antiquarian book he was considering buying to inhale the book’s past and to inform his appraisal.

But I was finding it  almost impossible to separate the crazy notion of book sniffing from the real craze of sniffing glue, conflating  them in my mind into people buying e-readers for their addictive fix of the smell of old books.

On innumerable occasions customers have complimented me on the smell of the bookshop – it had somehow reinforced the authenticity of the place to them.  This man’s smell button was purporting to somehow reinforce the authenticity of an e-reader.

Whereas our bookshop smell genuinely arises from the mixture of new and antiquarian books, the book smell button is as artificial as is the quest to copy all the various aspects of the book using digital, electronic or mechanical means.

They are two separate artifacts. Is there any point conflating them?

The Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout

Inauguration Stations

February 5th, 2014

Hello Hello Hello! Hello. We are the Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout and we would like to welcome you to our new-look blog.

We’ve been selling books in Old Street Roundabout for thirteen years and we figured, with the arrival of this most auspicious of anniversaries, that it was time to create a place to talk about it. So here we have it: a soapbox for a material girl in a digital world.

At the beginning of last week the Standard broke the news that the area around Old Street Roundabout (or ‘Tech City’, as it is snazzily styled) has become the place for tech start-ups to locate themselves. One interviewee said: “There’s a great energy in London’s start-up scene. It’s still proving itself.”

I mean, isn’t this just a really astonishing piece of news? Tech companies in Silicon Roundabout? It’s dynamite!

This story could have been written on any year for the last decade so, apparently, nothing has changed. Old Street is still the up and coming place for the up and coming. But then, they do keep coming – and this high turnover of businesses and the people that work in them has put the shop in contact with an ever shifting population of workers. It’s given us a window onto these different people’s changing book-buying habits.

First off, we’ve seen the decline of technical books. Since the beginning it’s been our policy not to stock software how-to manuals and such the like as they grow obsolete so quickly, but we have always offered a service ordering specific books that our customers need. As the years have gone on the number of these requests has steadily declined, to the point that now we can go weeks on end without any enquires about technical books at all.

On the flip side of this decline, we have seen a steady increase in sales of science fiction. What is interesting is that our past experience has shown that technical books and science fiction have often gone together – customers with an interest in one would frequently have an interest in the other.

What this suggests to me is that, whilst our customers are looking less and less to print to learn how to do specific things, they are turning to books more often as a form of escape. Several customers who spend their workdays sat at computers have told me that when they get home they want a way to relax which doesn’t involve looking at a screen.

It has always been the job of speculative fiction to look forwards: to imagine, for better or for worse, what will come next. For most of us, the future will mean more time spent at a computer. And as the amount of time that we’re plugged-in steadily increases, the existence of books as a means of respite – as an access to the thrilling sensation of  complete immersion in one’s own imagination – will become more important than ever.

But then, we would say that.

What do you think?

SF

The Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout

Darcy’s Death is Pants

September 30th, 2013

A pall was thrown across the literary world last week with the shocking and untimely passing of Mr. Mark Darcy. A preview of Helen Fielding’s new book Mad About the Boy – the third in the Bridget Jones canon – has revealed that the object of Ms. Jones’ affections, and of many thousands of women around the world, succumbed in the period between the second and third book. The cause is unknown.

 

Grieving Bridget Jones fans took to social media to express their anguish at the loss. “Noooo! Not Mark Darcy!” wrote Fiona Ufton. Max_Normal was rather less plaintive: “RIP #Darcy ya fop.”

It does seem a rather extreme way of clearing the path for Roxster, the 29 year old toy-boy who is to be Bridget’s squeeze in the new book. Couldn’t Mark and Bridget simply have got a divorce? I suppose it is probably more convenient that he dies. It’s a clean break, stops him from cropping up later and causing mischief.

Or perhaps there are other forces at work. Perhaps, like the rest of us, Fielding has been tearing her way through the Game of Thrones series and delighting in the way George R.R. Martin leaves the path strewn with the mutilated corpses of our favourite characters.

Many things separate Ms. Fielding’s writing from that of Mr. R.R. Martin, but the important difference here is that the latter never promises happily ever after. The Game of Thrones series declares from the very first page, loudly and violently, the impossibility of a fairy-tale ending. We expect a high body count, so when R.R. Martin gives us one we accept it because he is simply following through.

But Fielding did write a fairytale, and the princess got the prince. So the fact that they haven’t continued getting exponentially happy in our absence is… well, it’s just poor form.

SF