Having been away from the retail world for many years, I had grown accustomed to Christmas leave periods that were positively decadent in length. It was with particular intensity, therefore, that I greeted the dawn (in our house, due to certain localised quantum temporal effects, this phenomenon occurs at around 10.30 a.m. on a non-working day) of the first precious day off in a consecutive series of three, and decided it was time to reflect on the current behaviour of Christmas in bookshops.
As someone who has recently and often promulgated the theory that cultural and technological pundits have underestimated the appeal and endurance of physical books, it was cheering to hear many bookshop customers echoing this. As stated in previous posts, I am not motivated towards this stance by any kind of Luddite wish to deny or turn back the tide of technology (that's more Canutite, I know), and if you attempted to locate me around the nether regions of Milton Keynes during the hours of darkness, crawling through the undergrowth in camouflage clothing lobbing clogs at the Amazon warehouse, your search would be in vain. (You may, however, witness some even more intriguing sights). I would also question some of the claims that are being made for the superior utility of e-readers, especially the notion that, for hundreds of years now, people have been sacrificing essential holiday items in order to fit a sufficient number of physical books into their suitcase. I have uttered and heard many a cavil and complaint about holiday experiences in my time, but I can't recall anyone saying that it had been inconvenient to wear the same shirt and pants every day for a fortnight, but at least they'd read War and Peace in the original, thanks to having packed that seven-volume set of Russian dictionaries alongside the novel. There is also the point to be made that most people's working lives are now dominated by computers, and that they may not wish to extend this relationship into their reading hours.
It was refreshing to see that, if our own bookshop was typical, literary fiction can be pursued with fervent popular demand. Those In Control Of Writing Things must, however, intervene in the problem of Hilary Mantel and Yann Martel having such similar surnames, if we are to avoid more frantic customers asking if they can have a copy of Bringing up Tigers or Wolf Pie, both of which, in any case, strike me as novels that deserve to be written.
The Law of the Absurdly Popular Christmas Feline Book was proudly upheld by A Street cat Named Bob, although I am sad to report we could not account for one copy yesterday, which situation led to one of my colleagues calling 'Here, Bob, Bob, Bob' around the shop (in a relatively customer-free moment) to no avail. This outcome was not surprising, as he should of course have put down a book about milk to entice it back.
Finally, it was good to have it reaffirmed that being around books has a benign and soothing influence on the human soul. During all the hours of frantic trading, the occasional long queue and not always being able to supply people's first requests, there was no flaring of temper or outburst of hysteria. The customers behaved pretty decently too.
This blog will now become decorously inebriated on Southern Comfort and slur its wishes to you all for the most peaceful Christmas and inspiring new year. Look out on Wednesday for a review of Dedalus' Decadent Sportsman.