Is there such a thing as a 'booksellers' book'? The title I keep coming across as a staff favourite in the retail environment is The Master and Margarita, and our bookshop in Welwyn Garden City (town slogan: 'Almost the first garden city') is no exception. Bulgakov's book has the appropriate blend of literary quality, knowing eccentricity, grand themes and black comedy to endear it to self-conscious literary types, who are not unknown behind bookshop counters. I came across, and was enthralled by the book relatively late in life, and was pleased to discover in the early pages that it had been referenced in another literary favourite, Alan Moore's Swamp Thing saga; mention of which there may already have been in this blog. Buy it immediately, need I add; Alan Moore is a self-proclaimed witch these days, and cauldrons ain't cheap. The book was reactivated in my memory today (my first day as a full-time (temporary (Christmas)) bookseller) when a customer ordered the graphic novel version published by Self-Made Hero.
We witnessed an advanced symptom of Christmas today - a wide outbreak of people carrying lists and looking anxious. Purchasing books in satisfying-looking heaps is the only reliable cure. We had a jolly day, and the till received plenty of exercise, in between our doughty crew attempting to extrude a large stock order of Fiction and Crime onto the shelves, a process which involved advanced book relocation skills, including the invasion of defenceless display tables and the attempts to reclassify books into less-populated sections (I've always thought of Patricia Cornwell as Mind, Body, Spirit, especially Body).
My own brief was to organise crime (there is such a thing as organised crime), a genre with which I have a strange relationship, in that I have always felt I ought to like it, but have never succeeded in doing so. I have close friends who regularly wave their current favourite detectives, police officers and private eyes seductively in front of me, but I always feel disappointed by the conventions of the genre. I thought Jo Nesbo would convert me, but about two thirds of the way through The Redeemer, there was a proliferation of sub-plots and twists that seemed like a literary Japanese Knotweed, and I lost patience as the book lost credibility for me. And what is it with these cynical, alcoholic or drug-addicted police officers who are inevitably dragging at least one failed marriage in their psychological wake? Is there a training course they're sent on? Do bright and capable police personnel who have clumsily failed to become addicted to anything, and whose marriage has somehow succeeded, find themselves bumping into a glass ceiling when it comes to promotion? 'Sorry, Sergeant Normal, but you're simply too psychologically well-balanced for this role. Take this large amount of crack and come back in a few months'. If I do happen to enjoy a book that might be claimed by the Crime mob (e.g. Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow), I reclassify it as Literature. People have been doing this with Science Fiction for years.
Reading update: I'm about a quarter of the way through Kaddish for an Unborn Child, which means I've read about four sentences of it. It's still very good. Buy it when you pick up Swamp Thing.