Monday, 7 June 2010

On bookselling

From Bury My Heart at W.H. Smith's by Brian Aldiss:
Those were years of revelation for me. Every day brought new discoveries. I fell into books in my eagerness to catch up on all those years lost in the sun [military service in Burma]. History, psychology, philosophy, biography, literature, art: the bookshop became my library. When Sanders promoted me to buyer of new books, I ordered from publishers whatever interested me. I believed that if I filled the shop with books I liked I would have no difficulty in selling them.
That is a pathetic fallacy (and who among us, who have worked in bookshops, has not fallen into it?) because, as Orwell recalls in 'Bookshop Memories' (published 1936):
...the thing that struck me was the rarity of really bookish people. Our shop had an exceptionally interesting stock, yet I doubt whether ten per cent of our customers knew a good book from a bad one.
Almost everything Orwell has to say in this essay is still relevant to bookselling today - though here his habitual pessimism and misanthropy seem to have failed him:
Also [bookselling] is a humane trade which is not capable of being vulgarized beyond a certain point.
It all depends, I suppose, which point you have in mind.

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