Saturday, 4 October 2014

No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.

Perhaps Dr Johnson was wrong, perhaps things have changed, perhaps most writers are blockheads, perhaps all three.

What about selling, as opposed to writing, books? Well, I can remember when bookshops were run and staffed by people who were more interested in books than money. Nowadays of course, with few exceptions, it’s the opposite. Waterstone’s, which is very often the only bookshop you can find because the little ones have been eaten up by them and Amazon, is sometimes infuriating and sometimes hilarious in its sheer ignorance of books except as money-making devices. Some examples:

When the philosopher Richard Wollheim, under whom I’d studied at London University, died, I went to Waterstones to get his posthumously published partial autobiography ‘Germs’. I asked an assistant who spoke very little English; she was a healthy sporty-looking young German woman. ‘Is a sports book’ she said. (Not a question, a statement.) ‘Oh no,’ I said; ‘not at all.’ ‘Yes, is a sports book.’ Becoming a little impatient I said ‘Well all right then, show me.’ She strode over to the sports section with me meekly following and triumphantly pulled out the book. I didn’t argue; I’d got the book I came for, which is an achievement in Waterstone’s.

Waterstone’s keeps ‘The History of Paisley Design’ under ‘Northern Ireland Politics’.

The Times Atlas of the World is, they think, what they call a ‘TV Tie-in’.

Marco Pierre White’s cookery book ‘White Heat’ is in ‘Engineering’.

Best of all, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ comes under ‘Self-Help’.


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