Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Do not go gentle into those good shelves

Herein are found further meandering remarks occasioned by the delightful experience of being a born-again bookseller in The Bookshop, Welwyn Garden City, (winner of the Doughty Tradespersons' Least Deceptively-Named Retail Outlet Award, 2011) (yes, there was a statuette).

The Shredded Wheat Factory; from Audrey  Bassingthorpe's Book:
Buildings of Welwyn Garden that are not  The Bookshop

There has been a certain amount of shuffling and creating of sections within our word emporium, with one of my intrepid colleagues causing to exist - by means of arcane ritual, esoteric incantations and - most importantly, a good, sturdy trolley - a Dark Romance department within Horror.  Unfortunately, because of a delay to the re-supply of our blank shelf labels (which has transcended epic proportions), we are unable to indicate this new area overtly, so we have drafted a new rota ensuring each of us in turn stands near the appropriate area looking pale and sensitive, with a faint aura of supernatural menace.  I dare not tell you how we're flagging up the new Erotica section.

Booksellers tend to have favourite sections within shops, (usually, but not always determined by personal interest) and the bond that subsequently develops is usually of a fiercely parental nature; a mixture of unconditional love, concern and jealousy whenever a threat to the size or position of the section is perceived, or - in pathological cases - whenever another bookseller attempts to shelve some stock in it, tidy it up or even approach within fifty yards of it.  An amusing consequence of this custodial relationship is the inappropriate championing of books to customers. When you hear a phrase such as:

'Yes, Sir or Madam, that 4-volume Oxford Latin Dictionary would be a perfect christening present...it's never too early....'

you know that someone has become a little too keen to boost the Language department takings.

Conversely and, so to speak, on the other hand, I have known booksellers who would tremble with apprehension when they were required to enter certain subject territories, the usual suspect here being 'Mind, Body, Spirit' or - as its known by its less spiritually-inclined detractors - the Miscellaneous Books Section.  This fear tended to be based on the difficulty of organising and therefore navigating the section (arranging it in ascending order of strangeness, for example, seldom works well) and of the subjects contained therein.  Often this led to the pitiful scenario of the bookseller who ran MBS being dragged out of their tea break by a whimpering colleague who would be told by the former, not for the first time, that 

'Astral Phenomena comes straight after Alien Encounters; it's obvious, for goodness' sake'.

My own spookiest experience in this category occurred many years ago when I telephoned an esoteric publisher to enquire for a customer about the availability of a certain title.  I was informed that the person who dealt with that particular series would be out of the office for some time.  There then followed an unconventionally long pause, which terminated in the revelation:

'He is a student of the Fourth Way'.

I confess, dear reader, that I was too discomfited to ascertain if and how these two statements were related.

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