Friday, 14 December 2012

In search of invisible books

Time, I think, to open another window in the advent calendar that is Christmas life in a modern independent book emporium.  I mean, of course,  The Bookshop, Welwyn Garden City (it does what it says on the fascia).

We are, (need it be said?) on close personal terms with most of the titles in our shop, but to enquire about the few exceptions, we rely on our EPOS (Electronic Point of Sale) system.  This, as any (retailing) fule kno, is a suite of linked computer programs that records and analyses the flow of stock in and out of shops. It cannot, of course, be relied upon unquestioningly, but is in most cases preferable to that combination of neglected stock cards, faulty memory and voodoo that pertained before the advent of affordable I.T.  

Every so often, possibly because it has downloaded 2001, a Space Odyssey during closing hours too many times and adopted HAL as a dubious role model, it likes to amuse itself by pretending that a book is in stock when the opposite is very much the case, sending booksellers hurtling vainly around the shelves while it sniggers electronically in a corner. The three titles that our Enumerating Phantoms on Shelves system has selected recently are a football book about Crystal Palace, Conference of the Birds (a Persian epic poem) and The Book Thief.  If, in fact, the stock discrepancy is due to eccentric shoplifting, we must alert the North Hertfordshire constabulary to be on the lookout for a Crystal Palace supporter with a taste for ancient literature who - probably due to a psychological quirk arising from childhood trauma - always betrays his or her activities by liberating an appropriate object.  I expect they're very erudite people on the Crystal Palace terraces, and can imagine  them using allusions to Plato's cave allegory to cast doubt on the referee's interpretation of his sense data, before hurling withering insults in rhyming Persian couplets at their visiting counterparts.  It's a funny old game.

The major event of the day was a very substantial stock delivery of Wordsworth Editions, an imprint that combines budget price points (from £1.99) with attractive, elegant designs, highly readable fonts and good quality paper; (and does not sponsor this blog).  We've been doing very steady trade with their adult and children's classics and poetry, but have now branched out into larger format hardback collections, non-fiction and supernatural classics, the last genre including many authors whose work prefigured the current supernatural literary crime wave.  The hapless colleague who was attempting to tell our Eccentric Piece of Software system about the arrival of these goodies was not assisted in her task by the rest of us wandering in every few minutes and snatching up the books which particularly took our eye, and cradling and cooing over them in a manner that wasn't in the slightest bit peculiar.  That any of the books made it to the shop floor was a minor miracle. How Wordsworth achieves this, I'm not sure.  Their website offers some explanation, but I think they've read some of their own more esoteric publications and have Employed Dark Forces, probably including a Satanic printing press staffed by doomed souls.

Lastly, it's good to see that the notion of supporting one's local book boutique (and other shops) is being given noticeably more frequent and more overt expression by our customers, who often engage us in detailed and interesting conversations about this phenomenon.  For many of our regulars, indeed, a 'reverse showcase' effect is in place, whereby they may come across a book on-line and then choose to buy it through physical means.  This wouldn't be the case, of course, if we didn't include excellent service, literary knowledge and (occasionally) the slapstick  entertainment of running around the shop chasing invisible books.

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