Archive for February, 2014

Book sniffing exhibition

February 25th, 2014

A couple of weeks ago Jason wrote a post about an olfactory inventor extraordinaire who was aiming to bridge the gap between e-reading and real reading by adding a button to e-readers which – when pressed – would emit the perfume of used books.

Well the idea seems to be catching on. London based artist Paul Schutze is currently putting on an exhibition at Maggs Bros booksellers in Mayfair which aims to explore the differences between the digital and physical reading experiences.  The exhibit is called ‘Silent Surface’ and includes a book sprayed with a perfume modeled on the aroma of books (named ‘Libro De Tenebris’), as well as books being burned or destroyed.

The first part I get. But burning books… always a contentious issue. The smell or sight of burning pages is not something that I really associate with the experience of reading.

Bulgakov and Bradbury have had their say on the matter. What do you think?

SF

Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout

(read more about the exhibition here)

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Celeb Watch

February 18th, 2014

Stars of the new Lego Movie were seen taking a break from their gruelling publicity tour this weekend, when they were snapped at a book shop in Old Street Station.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” said one shopper, “They had disguises on but I’d recognise them anywhere. I almost stood on one little fella but thankfully his bodyguard scooped him up just in time.”

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One book was of particular interest.

The film hit box offices at the beginning of this month to rave reviews and the stars have been in the news non-stop ever since.

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This famed method actor was seen preparing for his next role.

“It must be tough to be so much in the spotlight,” mused another shopper, “it’s nice to know they’re just people – like you and me.”

SF

Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout

To see more miniature books see here, or come and visit us in the shop!

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Some thoughts on the Novel

February 15th, 2014

A customer recently told me that he can’t stand to read novels anymore because spending so much time reading newspapers has meant he finds it difficult to read unbroken lines.

Which got me to thinking: what have us booksellers been belly-aching about Amazon for? We’ve misdirected our ire. I’ve identified the true villains, and I’ve come up with the solution. It’s simple; I’ll just set fire to the newsagents. Or if not the newsagents then perhaps Rebekah Brooks… Hugh Grant would cheer me on. We could shoot a grisly sequel to Notting Hill.

But putting threats of arson and witch-burnings aside, there certainly has been a crisis of confidence in the novel as a form in the last 10 years. Take Philip Roth. He said in 2009 that novels will become a ‘cultic’ minority enthusiasm within 25 years, and it’s ‘the print that’s the problem, it’s the book, the object itself’. But we can take with a pinch of salt. Or better sugar. After all, can anyone remember the last time Roth said something that wasn’t unpalatably bitter?

People have written a lot about declining attention spans in the digital age and how this has created an apathetic attitude towards long form fiction. But then a lot of people have also been writing very long books, and a lot of people have been reading them. We have also been handing out awards for them – the Booker Prize for Eleanor Catton’s 832-page clobbering wedge The Luminaries being one example.

So what are we to make of this then? On the one hand we are being told by the likes of Jonathan Franzen that we are all going to be transformed into drivelling dirges able only to conceptualise narratives in terms of trending hashtags, and on the other hand we are reading and slapping prizes on books that make Middlemarch seem mercifully short. It’s very confusing.

First off I think that our tendency towards these long novels goes some way to put paid to Roth’s criticism of the book as an object. The physical size of these books shows that we are not as concerned with their obtrusiveness as much as has been thought.

Secondly I think the way that our television viewing habits have changed provide an illuminating analogy when it comes to thinking about our attention spans. American drama series that focus on one continuous narrative, stretched over 5 or six series, each with at least 12 hour long episodes have become more and more popular. Not only that, but instead of being released serially, entertainment companies such as Netflix are releasing these shows to viewers all at once (the second series of House of Cards which was released yesterday being a fine example). These shows are far more like novels than films, in their structure and their scope. And our hunger for them shows that we haven’t lost interest in the big stories and big characters that only a novel can tell and bring to life.

The schizophrenic tendency that Franzen has identified certainly applies to the way that we communicate with one another, which is becoming more and more telegraphic. But it’s not the death knell for the novel. Something will get it in the end, but it’s not going to be twitter. There’s appetite for stories yet.

SF

The Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout

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