We have a pretty spectacular basement at work. In this basement there is one particular large looming steel shelf that is approximately 2.5 metres wide and 3 deep tiers high. Across these 3 tiers are copious stacks of books sitting in the shadows having had their time in the limelight.
[NB: This is a basement where during our lunch break as we eat our leftovers, or on our afternoon break as we sip on a cup of tea, we can sit silently and simply appreciate the abundance of books that are just bulging at it’s brim. To sit in this basement is for us booksellers, I imagine, similar to what it is for a hungry person who loves ice-cream to sit and eat their way out of the middle of an ice-cream sandwich].
Down here there are stacks of svelte trade paperbacks that have reached the next stage in their publishing journey, as they become defunct in their role as a ‘New Release’ and are replaced by their more sought after sibling; the smaller more appealing sized paperback. Then there are the hardbacks spread across these 3 tiers too that have also been replaced by the paperback. Then there are the other paperbacks, the ones that are not going to be replaced by a sought after sibling, because they’re simply not sought after much at all.
And it’s these paperbacks, the one’s that are unlike their sought after neighbours upstairs, that have made me question my literary tastes. I have often spotted a paperback on this shelf that I at one time chose, undoubtedly in all of my literary enthusiasm, to hand over hard earned cash for so that I could call it my own. I see these books, the ones that I have read, on this shelf and see that it sits there dusted only with my enthusiasm.
This made me think about how it is that I choose a book in comparison to my savvy colleagues whose books rarely make it to this place. I choose a book in 1 of 3 ways it seems; either I’ve already read and enjoyed another book by the same author such as Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert which I read before Big Magic, or The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin which I read after The Happiness Project; Or the author was positively reviewed in, let’s say, The Guardian such as COWS by Dawn O’Porter, or English by Ben Fogle; Or I simply found the cover irresistible as I did with The Little Book of Hygge by Mike Wiking, Penguin’s cloth bound edition of Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, and Ross Bayton and Simon Maughan’s Genealogy for Gardners.
I wish you had a way of telling me how you choose your books. Only 2 of those titles actually made it to the shelf, but I was flabbergasted they hadn’t appealed to the good humour of the New Zealand reader! How do you choose your books?
My questionable taste is further validated as I ask fellow colleagues what they’re currently reading. I am often presented with a rather highbrow intellectual title that I might have read when I was at University but it sure as shit wouldn’t cross my clearly questionable mind to read now. [It is lucky, then, that I have these young studious friends to recommend such books and keep my intellectual veil well scrubbed].
I hear of titles such as The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries by Kathi Weeks and The Odyssey: Homer translated by Emily Wilson. Both are books that I wish I had the insight and knowledge of to have picked up first, but my eye line always beelines for the more light hearted, ‘i’m going to read this when I get into bed at 8:30’, cover.
You can guarantee then that a good literary escape to Provence, Italy or Spain is exactly the kind of book I’ll have on my bedside table underneath some hearty non-fiction.
This week, my non-fiction choice is Bad Girls: a History of Rebels and Renegades by Caitlin Davies. It’s an incredible read documenting in captivating detail the lives of the female Suffragettes, aristocrats and paupers who were executed at Holloway Prison. The only pitfall so far is the review from Jeremy Corbyn promptly splattered on the front cover.
I am also reading A Year at Hotel Gondola by Nicky Pellegrino, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (for the 2nd time), and Kompromat by Stanley Johnson (who is unfortunately Boris Johnson’s Dad, but he sure knows how to write a laugh out loud satire on Brexit and U.S. / Russia relations).
In comparison to my studious colleagues my reads are perhaps less thought provoking. However, who wouldn’t want to hide amongst the pages of an idyllic, romantic year long Venice trip and follow the female protagonist at Hotel Gondola as she weaves you in and out of her book writing and finds herself dating one Venetian all the while trying not to bone another. It was, for me, a wonderful little page turner.
Then you have Gretchen’s book that takes you on her 12 month journey to happiness, which is great as you can take what bits of her experiment that suit you and your lifestyle and give them a go. So long as we all remember that happiness is a social construct and ultimately finding your purpose in life is what counts you’ll enjoy it.
Finally, there’s Kompromat, which takes you firstly to Siberia where characters with an uncanny resemblance to Putin and Trump end up in hospital because Putin shot Trump in the ass with a ketamine dart. Is . There. Anything. More. Visually. Entertaining.
Unknowing why, I haven’t read books that sell out such as The Power by Naomi Alderman, or The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood, or A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, or Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman, or Lincoln in the Bardot by George Saunders. But as I know this doesn’t matter, because what makes for the perfect bookselling team is having individuals whose tastes clash. I don’t enjoy science fiction or fantasy, but I’ll always be able to find someone whose read Dune or Game of Thrones to give me the low down. If I need a poetry recommendation for an inquisitive customer, then there are always the talents of someone around to pass the baton on to. Yet if someone wants a book on happiness, Feminism, prison and romantic escapes I, it would appear, am your woman.