Strange Days Indeed

I was playing with one of those Sony Reader gizmos the other day and yet again was tempted to buy. The idea of having hundreds of books at my fingertips is quite appealing. And yet…

It isn’t that I’m a Luddite about these things, but I do wonder where it will lead to if we all give in and buy a reader. Will we ever be able to buy real books again?

I was thinking this about the same time as I was salivating over the reader. I’d nipped into Waterstones in search of a book. You know, one of those paper thingies with individually numbered pages. It wasn’t anything exotic I was after either, just a copy of Strange Days Indeed by Francis Wheen, a writer I enjoy.

After tramping up and down stairs in a futile search and with much tutting under my breath, I finally gave in and followed Mrs P’s advice to ask at the counter. The assistant consulted her computer and confidently told me that there were four copies to be had. Somewhere.

She waved her arm vaguely and suggested I should try upstairs, at the back of the shop in the social sciences section. Or possibly politics. If not, find the upstairs assistant and ask again.

In the event, I didn’t need further help as I found a copy in social sciences as ‘her downstairs’ had rightly guessed. But it was hardback and as much as I like Wheen’s style, I don’t value it at £18.99 so I left empty-handed. Back at home, a few clicks located the paperback version at Amazon for the £5.99 I was prepared to pay at Waterstones and with free next day delivery.

And that’s my point: here was a book by a not unpopular writer published within the last twelve months that I confidently expected to find at Waterstones in a reasonably prominent position, but it wasn’t there. Is this a sign of things to come?

There was a time when every town had its own independent book shop, often family run, but these pretty much disappeared as the demand for books rose and big business realised there was a profit to be made. Especially if they could screw the publishers and cut the retail price. That means in the nearest town to where I live, there is no book shop at all now. There was a WH Smith’s for a time, but that closed a few years ago.

The closest I can get to spotting ink on paper is Waterstones in Stockport and not always successfully as I’ve said. The chain shops represent the McDonaldisation of book-selling and I wonder how long it will be before the selection on offer is no more than you might find in a glorified Asda book section.

We will be forced to buy more and more online and so the choice on the high street will shrink even further until there are no book shops left at all and I find that very sad. I’ve spent many an idle moment browsing the bookshelves and have enjoyed books bought on impulse based on nothing more than the flyleaf synopsis. Mind you, I’ve read some utter rubbish as well, but you pays your money etc.

There is no serendipity at Amazon, unless you count the ‘customers who bought this item also bought’ come on. You tend to go there when you know exactly what you want and I suspect the same could be true for the electronic readers. We will download the titles we know and love and have thousands of books at our fingertips, but not that unregarded novel that no-one else has heard of which we think is a little gem.

So I shall hold off buying a reader until the tide becomes irresistible.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

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