Monday, 10 August 2009

bookshop blues...

I went into a well-known bookshop in Manchester that shall remain nameless. Yes, it was Waterstones. I decided that it's been a long time since I bought books from a shop rather than online. I thought I might browse, see what I could discover, perhaps find a treat on the shelves that I might not otherwise know about. It used to happen a lot. I was an avid bookshop browser, with a love for wandering round a bookshop, collecting a stack of books, and then deciding which three (or five) to buy. I've been spoiled by online book shopping, wishlists and recommended readings, one click buying, and readers reviews. So, yesterday, I nipped into town, wanting to flick through some pages, feel the books, read a page before I bought.

So, I asked the lovely young shop assistant, 'Could you tell me where your short fiction section is, please?'

She was very eager to please, smiled, wanted to be helpful, but looked a little puzzled. I think you probably know where this story is heading...

'Is there a particular author or collection you're looking for?' she asked.

'No, actually, I just want to browse thanks.'

Another bewildered look, a quick glance at the list of sections on the wall, and then... 'I'm sorry, we don't have a short fiction section. All the short fiction is in the main fiction section'. Yes, a whole enormous floor of novels, perhaps a hundred different bookshelves, A-Z.

The well worn phrase 'needles in a haystack' came to mind. If I wanted, say, Raymond Carver or Ali Smith or Kafka, I would find them in their alphabetical place squashed in amongst the novels. And perhaps if I wanted someone less well-known and I knew their name, I might find their collection. But, no browsing for me... because the short fiction is not seperate from the bloody novels. How annoying.

I didn't expect a display of short fiction, or even a very prominent or huge selection, but I did think there might be a small collection of short fiction for me to find at least one book I might want to buy. Yes, there were a couple of very small shelves with anthologies, mostly either familiar to me already or uninspiring it has to be said. But, that's it.

Booksellers, please! It's like putting the biographies in the history section, or mixing travel guides in the geography section. Yes, kind of the same, but actually NO, it's totally different. *Exasperated Sigh*


Tania Hershman said...

Yes. Precisely. Why can't they see that - to me it's like putting Poetry in the Self-Help section or Cookery Books in the Maps area: utterly utterly wrong. Shame. Thank goodness for amazing booksellers like Sara at Waterstones Brighton who has taken it upon herself to have a rich and wide-ranging short fiction section, yay!! Annie, go educate this young young woman...

pierre l said...

Hello Annie. I have seen the famous display case at the Brighton branch.
That shop is on four floors if I remember correctly, and the display greets you as you enter the fiction floor. Considering that Sara only works one day a week, this is great.
There have been web-sites showing how much coffee is left in the machine; perhaps we need a space at with a picture of the display case in question, and some mechanism for ordering the books showcased in there.
I have been to that branch twice (about 60 miles away), and I have come home with several books I had never heard of before.

deemikay said...

The one that really, really, REALLY annoys me is the the folklore/mythology/anthropology "section". It is nearly always in the Occult/David-Icke/Magic/Aliens-Built-Atlantis/Nonsense sections.

Just because I want to read about the development of middle eastern myths in a socio-historical context doesn't mean I want to stand next to a Goth wanting to cast spells, or someone who thinks that Stonehenge is an extraterrestrial traffic island. Thank you very much.


mark said...

Totally agree with this.
When the Deansgate branch of Waterstomes was my local bookshop (I've since moved) I found the same problem. Unless you knew the name or wanted Granta, you were pretty much stuck unless they were miraculously having a short fiction promotion when you went in (that never happened by the way). As a result i too ended up buying all my short stuff online, despite living a few minutes walk away from Deansgate and St Annes Sq Watersones - really frustrating.

Short fiction needs attention.
It occupies this oddly ignored hinterland between novel and poetry that seems to make it almost invisible in most shops.
You are better off with an independant.....if you can find one of course.

Thank Gawd for Comma, Salt and online ordering