Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Wired Bookworld

Over on The Dabbler, the redoubtable Jon Hotten asks, in a comment, if I deliberately held off from buying Muriel Spark's Memento Mori online when I could easily have done so for 1p. In that particular case, I did indeed hold off. After so many years of finding the charity shop bookshelves groaning with every other Spark title (if I had a penny for every Girls of Slender Means or Far Cry From Kensington I'd seen, I would be on my way to being a rich man), I was becoming mildly obsessed with the curiously absent Memento Mori and determined to track it down in what is surely its natural habitat. Eventually I did. But would I bother denying myself the instant gratification of online purchase for any other titles, or is that the last? My quest, after all, began way back in the pre-Amazon, pre-AbeBooks dark ages...
This question feeds into my mixed - conflicted even - feelings about online book buying. I love the ease and convenience - and, usually, cheapness - of it, and yet I hate that it's taken all the excitement out of book searching. I know with a deadening certainty that there are very few titles indeed that I couldn't find and purchase online, sometimes with a little patience, but usually with no more than a few keystrokes. Where's the fun in that? Where's the pleasure of deferred gratification? The only game left in this wired bookworld is finding the book I want at a lower price than I could get it for online - and this can be done, even with the famous 1p books on Amazon, 1p usually translating as £2.76. However, saving the odd 77p is hardly a thrill worth pursuing with much enthusiasm. Another downer in all this is that charity shops now have expert valuers, so the chances of finding a real bargain are very slim. In the past I've picked up, for example, a mint-condition first of Dead Babies (in wraps) for 25p, and a first of Mervyn Peake's Hunting of the Snark for the same price, both from branches of Oxfam - those days will never come again. To find a real bargain nowadays, you can only hope for a bookseller - or a charity shop valuer - getting a price spectacularly wrong, or you can rummage at jumble sales, fairs, car boot sales and such places. But I seem to have changed the subject... So - would I ever again defer buying a book online for the sake of finding it in physical from? Probably not. But do I continue to scan the shelves and rummage for books wherever they are to be found? Of course I do. The thing about books is that you don't know what you want - what you need, what you must read - until you see it, and hear its call.


  1. what a great post Nige, and I m sure there are many others who would identify strongly with it!

    Im really looking forward to 2012's nigeness, and wish you and yours a very merry christmas

  2. Well thank you - and the same to you and yours, Worm!

  3. Yes I can see myself appropriating this one for The D in future months.

    Have you still got that Peake Snark? How much do you want for it?

  4. I ain't selling Brit! Actually it's nor worth that much - certainly not in the Dead Babies league...

  5. Wandered into my local library (Dulwich) the other day, not to borrow but to scan the spectacular downward trend in quality, which continues unchecked. Talking books and DVD's growing apace, proper reading matter made from wood-pulp still shrinking alarmingly. Checked for dear Muriel under 'S' but discovered she had been elbowed out by somebody called Danielle Steel. 'No call for her, dear' was the response from the desk, when I asked about Spark. Upside? Well, they sell unborrowed books a couple of times a year, unscreened by the thought-police, and I picked up a dog-eared Roth for 50 pence. The future is here already.

  6. How sad Mahlerman. And I used to work in that very library, picking up many desirable titles for my own shelves as they were withdrawn from the stock for lack of interest. It was beginning even then, a quarter of a century ago...


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