Where are you? Doing the rounds of Christmas parties, shopping at Waterstone’s or ordering from Amazon in the comfort of your own homes?
I was going to continue the debate about bookshops that was in the press a month ago (I know, I got sidetracked). Since then I have a feeling that the interest has moved away from whether or not Waterstone’s are evil, to what will happen to poor Borders?
On the whole, bookshops are nice places to go. Some have policies that are more palatable than others. But they do at least sell books. Few of us can say that we don’t mind what we pay, and some years ago I used to pay more than I needed to in order to support our local independent. I don’t any longer. In the rare circumstances that I need a book now, I may go for a 3 for 2 in a chain if I’m out shopping, but most likely I’ll order on the internet.
I boycotted Waterstone’s for a few years when they treated the Terry Pratchett fans who came prepared to an event, with new book already purchased, as the lowest of customers. Let them wait for a few hours at the back of the queue since they weren’t going to pay for another one. Fenced off like cattle.
But at least the chains don’t force you to buy out of a sense of duty. Just because you have entered an independent bookshop, doesn’t mean you are made of money. Maybe you only needed one book, and could just about face paying full price for it. The last thing you need is to have a few more books waved in front of you by the ‘handselling’ indie owner, pointing out that these would be just your thing. And how about this one, too?
And ordering books fast. Is that Waterstone’s doing? Or is it that things in general have moved on, so that you can have the book next day, rather than the three weeks I used to have to wait? That long ago, I was usually accompanied by a family member in a pushchair, and our town had two bookshops. Both with an upstairs, which was where you had to pick up the book you’d waited so long for. For a while I favoured the shop with a lift, until it broke.
‘So you mean I can’t get up there?’ ‘That’s right…’ I moved on to the liftless shop, where they offered to help carry my young person up the stairs. (But it would really have made sense to offer to pop up and get the book for me, wouldn’t it?)
Personally I like the new style shops with seats and drinks, but if I’m to settle in for that long, I’ll want customer toilets, too. And not of the variety where you get a key/code once you’ve paid for your purchases, as though you’re a child. And we all know children are hardly ever nice, except when older generations spend on books for them.
Most bookshops and most chains have got something going for them. I have finally grasped after years in Britain, that you mustn’t admit to being hard up. Though that could be why you have picked the cheaper shop, or even why you aren’t buying at all. And you must always, always buy things for people. Gifts and cards for every reason, no matter how distant or ridiculous. I have adapted to this, too, but almost wish I hadn’t.
Scrooge needn’t be bad tempered and unfriendly, but Scrooginess is necessary as far as saving money/earth’s resources are concerned. We can go too far.