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Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Reach out and touch

So, physical things.
I have never written before about the bookshop in which I work. This is mainly because it has always been so well summed up by the Bookseller Crow himself, but after HMV going into administration last week I am left wondering, what are the things that will keep people coming into the bookshop above all else? What is it that a bookshop can provide which will make them survive the rough times, now that the physical is disappearing?
The Last Day of Woolworth in Penge High St 2008
After helping out on events, running workshops and the general clearing up of crisps trodden into the carpet, I can only think - it must be there in the writing, i.e. the printed, the holdable and then equally, the spoken, audible word. We all know you open up a book and find new lives and other worlds, and the same goes for when you use a K****e, but, the other day my friend's mum said that everything her husband downloads will be only 99p. He tries before he buys from the free pages, but really he'll get anything as long as it's on special offer. We've got one of those shops opening up Crystal Palace where Blockbusters used to be. Random, strange and enticingly foreign as these 99p shops may be, they are the physical spaces that have taken over from where Woolworths died. At least with a Woolworths you trusted that it only sold you what you wanted.

Books will bend your shelves
In a bookshop, when you hold a book, it will suggest, 'I dare you to try me.' Over and over, their spines are like fighters, or dancers, back to back, shoulder to shoulder. For the lucky ones their faces are turned outwards. The artwork (their brave fronts) pushes to convey their insides, like someone trying to show the complexity of their personality through their new coat.
When in a bookshop you look up from the page, maybe over at the counter, you might approach it and perhaps ask a question thereby allowing yourself to feel exposed. While talking you can't g****e to check the correctness of your responses, or to see if your memory is correct. You can feel passionate then blush, or inspired then energised or confused, or, the other extreme, you can confirm your learnedness and have that discussion leaving as fully plumped as a pigeon.

'Paradise' - do not read in a bar.
It is here, in the bookshop that things happen, physically. The book in your hand is not actually what you came in for, and you know you don't have any more space on your shelves and only enough money for a book or a bottle of wine, but you take it, because it is meant for you, today (besides there's a bottle of ginger wine under the sink). A book can be read in the bath, on a beach or on a lilo, you can put your finger in it, see how far you have to go, (or worse - how few pages you have left) write a message in it, drop coffee over it and still it will survive. It can do the rounds amongst friends and it can be waiting for you in a library for years. I have had books from lovers and strangers, friends but never foes. I have found them at hotels, on trains and in planes. I once used a novel to stop my face from getting sunburnt.
On the displays in the bookshop, I have watched books curl with the moisture from the rain then shrink with the dryness of the sun, over and over, open then shut.

Then there's the other function of bookshops: the space for thinkers, writers and wannabe writers.  I know how some people start to behave in bookshops, I've done it myself; they linger, they like to listen to the conversation between the person behind the counter and the person in front, to look at the synopsis on the back-sides of books and wonder 'How did they do that?' or 'Why?' 'Is it any good or is it just hype?' 'Is it shit?' 'Am I shit?' 'And am I angry because it looks shit, or because I know it isn't and I feel this because they have been published and I haven't?' In a bookshop you can say you thought that a novel was rubbish and someone else will chip in to disagree with you. In a bookshop there will be no internet trolls to hurt you when you have said what you think. We're not talking about just another review on A****n here. People will join in and people will spar. And this is good because you have to try to quantify your thoughts into words, in real time, and have an opinion, use actual speech to someone's face, or you will just lose face. On the spot. That's it! It's about being on the spot. Not hiding in a dressing gown with a screen heating up your lap, like a replacement cat, but being here, turning up, being who you can be or are, with the weight of the books all around you. It is the positive pressure to be better, read better, think bigger (or smaller with more detail) write with more knowledge. Get off your arse. Write something in the bookshop on paper, on a postcard, with a pen and leave it for me.

Come in, touch a book, give it a sniff and talk about it, or not talk, remain silent until you are ready to talk. Come back, buy it, come back. Talk. Think. Talk.

Because here in the Bookshop you are live on air!