Wednesday, April 8, 2009
I was in a large bookshop yesterday. For the sake of the story, we’ll call it Boundaries. Hey, before you throw down in disgust. Try it. It makes you feel much better about shopping in your favourite independent bookshop. Boundaries has lots of books. A lot. A really good selection. But then, they should have. It’s a feckin BIG shop and maybe that’s why it’s kind of expensive, but maybe it's not. I'm talking expensive compared to independent bookshop prices. Take Michael Chabon’s Maps and Legends. $32.95 in yer local independent. $57 in Boundaries. I mean Really? Is there any need for that shit. I thought the idea of the corporate homogeneity is larger volume, cheaper prices. The Indies can be more expensive than chain-store equivalents sometimes, but at least you get the benefit of informed, interested staff who generally know what they’re talking about. In chain-world this is the exception rather than the rule, but we get it and we even accept it. The indies want you to come back because they like it so, so much they want you to do the same.
Boundaries isn’t always more expensive, mind. There are exceptions. The ugly spine of ‘fast book nation’ mentalities coupled with economies of scale allow for the notorious 3-for-the-price-2-deal. A bargain? It would be except there’s only ever really one book you want. There’s maybe one other, but it’s a half-interest; a might read if you ever get done reading the things you want to read. The rest you’ve either read already or never will. It’s the ‘more you spend the more you save’ sham. Still it must work for some people and charities like Lifeline definitely benefit.
Before I go on I should declare my part-time employment in a particularly good indie in Brisbane. This is hardly an objective piece, BUT were I otherwise employed, I’m confident I’d make the same observations.
While I was in Boundaries, I asked a staff member at the counter if there was a sports fiction section? He looked at me like I’d asked him if I could poo in his shoe. “You what, mate?” he says.
I said, “Sports fiction – fiction with sport in it. D’you have any books or even a section of sports fiction?” He looked at me the way people look in empty plastic bags, when they know there’s nothing in them. They’re done with them. Only good for drowning seagulls now.
So I said, “You know books that are fictional and have sport in them?”
He actually scratched his head.
Now the first time, it could well have been my lilting Scottish brogue that confused him. The second time maybe too. But the third time I said it like I was patronising a non-English speaker. Hand signals and everything. “You know? Books…that…Ah rrre …phic shon al …annnDD… have… sssspoarrrt… iiinnn… tthem?” I said it the way Lee Majors ran after he’d had the $6million dollar operation, a bit of creaking and a lot of slow motion.
A solid wall of blankness.
It was disconcerting.
Another scratch and a flicker of light intruded into the empty space in his eyes. He said, “There’s some sports books upstairs mate.”
He was right. But they were all non-fiction. I said, “Yeah thanks.”
What chance do I have of establishing football fiction as a genre if the staff at one of the city’s largest bookshops cannot imagine that a thing like sports fiction exists?