Nick's Notes

Alphabetic Serendipity

I have rediscovered bookshops, and with them, books.

Perhaps bookshops have been reinvented since I last indulged, Bookshop 3.0, you might say. I’m up to Kindle 6.6 on my iPad after all. 2.0 brought coffee shops some time ago and 1.0 always featured knowledgeable staff, who knew about the books as well as the shop, especially in the independent bookshops.

I think 3.0 is an incremental change, but sufficient for me to rediscover the pleasures of using them. Waterstones has had a revamp recently and has created a very pleasant space as a result, subtly but undoubtedly. It’s all about the books and as their website says no two shops are identical as they are designed to fit the location and area.

So what does a bookshop offer over an electronic store full of e-books. Well the first thing is older titles, some of which are not in e-pub formats. A big thing for me as I’ve recently joined a book club, and the selection of books we’ve discussed have been published over nearly century. Then there is the serendipity of browsing, never quite reproduced by Amazon’s Kindle store. Looking for a book by Herman Hesse I went too far on the shelves and was soon into Ibsen whom I haven’t read since my school days. This randomness when looking for the next thing to read cannot be replicated by “recommendations for you”.

Since working at Penguin Books I’ve never been quite sure about the aphorism that you can’t judge a book by its cover. The unbelievable focus the designers bring to making the book attractive to its prospective readers means that whilst you can’t judge the contents you can know a lot about the book, and its publisher’s values. Looking at the wide range of books on the shelves so many caught my browsing eye.

Searching is also easy – ask a member of the staff and they will help.

So overall a good experience recently. But I’ll still choose my ebooks in most cases. Immediate gratification on either 4G or wi-fi! The ability to carry the equivalent of a library on holiday with you, and the sheer number of available books makes it a winner. For certain books though, often photographic for me, sometimes special in other ways, there is no substitute for having the physical item, and a bookshop is a pleasurably way to acquire that book. In the end it’s about having a choice.

Buying a book and then sitting in the warm spring sunshine outside a coffee shop (not the in-store one) was a pleasant experience, perhaps slightly nostalgic. And it did remind me that progress is neither linear nor smooth and some of the things left behind when revamped carry on delivering the right experience possibly in a different context – like canals becoming part of the leisure industry when no longer needed for transportation. Not all do – no one would or probably could visit a video shop any more. Yet it would be nice to dream that one day the M1 will be reserved for leisure driving of cars actually driven by people, when the norm is the driverless car.

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