Thursday, August 04, 2011

Are we becoming passive book buyers?

I was staying in London on Tuesday evening with an artist, and as always we ended up comparing notes about the art and the literary worlds. One thing she said to me was that she doesn't any longer go into bookshops to browse actively and look for new books, which she used to do all the time; nowadays she relies much more on recommendations from friends. She said too that her mother, an English teacher and huge reader, has also changed the way she acquires books: she's always taken a great pile of books for the annual family holiday (on which they were all due to embark), but nowadays it will be block deals, such as Richard and Judy recommendations, and in the gite in France she'll be handing out to others the ones she doesn't fancy...

I've written about this before, but the conversation strengthened for me the sense that we are becoming more passive in our book-buying, more subject to advertising and hype, and of the role that bookshops are being forced to play in this. I remembered that exciting sense I used to get on entering a bookshop, of entering a cave of delights, and which I rarely get now, instantly faced as I am with the three-for-two table and my choices ready-made for me. I know there are shelves and shelves of other books beyond it, but the psychology is quite different: I may previously have gone to only one section of a bookshop on any one occasion, but there was the sense that everything else was also on offer for later, or the next time, whereas now my focus is drawn to that central table, and there is the subtle sense, as in all advertising, that nothing else beyond it matters, or at least not as much...
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