Sunday, 14 October 2007

It's agony . . .

I spend many of my lunch hours in Waterstone's, the nearest thing Bury has to a good bookshop (I was spoiled by my years working in Cambridge). I'm pretty much a fiction person. I can't remember the last factual book I read all the way through - I tend to dip in and out as and when I want to look something up. And I'm ashamed to say I tend to use Waterstone's as a sort of reference library. Recently, I've been browsing the 'smallholding' section as I'm considering getting a few hens for the bottom of the garden.

However, this week I decided I needed to top up the pile of books next to my bed which are waiting to be read. There has been a bit of a hiatus in my reading recently - I read mostly in bed at night but, because of the awful and exhausting new computer system at work, which I may have mentioned in a previous blog, I've just been too tired to read. Instead, I drop off in seconds to The World Tonight on Radio 4.

I thought a few new titles and/or authors might reinvigorate my page turning, so it was off to Waterstone's. I quickly found one book I had been waiting to arrive in paperback, then - after a long browse of the shelves - another by an author I'd not read before but which looked interesting. Then came that terrible dilemma . . . you've got two books in your hand and they both happen to be part of Waterstone's 3for2 offer. Do I just pay for the two and forego the offer or do I spend yet more time (with my lunch hour quickly disappearing) finding a third book?

I'm too mean to turn down an offer, so it was back to the shelves. The hunt was proving fruitless, nothing tickled my fancy. So, I thought, why not break out of this fiction-only routine? Let's try a biography.

I trawled the biography section and quickly discovered why I didn't read them - what rubbish. I picked up Lord Stevens' autobiography (he was a deputy or assistant or deputy chief constable of Cambridgeshire police for a while) and flicked through it. He should stick to police work - when a sentence begins: "I remember one amusing incident . . ." it says it all.

As I put John Stevens' tome back on the shelf, I noticed the sign . . .

I hate the way they divide up bookshops. A novel is a novel, it doesn't matter if it's crime, horror, romance or sci-fi, they all belong on the same shelves - in author order (you wouldn't guess my Saturday job when I was at school was in the local library!).

So, what on earth is a Painful Life? Do you need to die a terrible death? Do you have to be a martyr to chilblains? Or perhaps you just have to peddle misery and despondency in a literary format!
Another reason I hate all these signs in bookshops (Waterstone's isn't the only guilty party) is that in the past I've found myself perusing a perfectly tame novel, only to look up and find that I'm leaning against a shelf headed 'Erotica' or 'Gay and Lesbian fiction'. Being easily embarrassed, I tend to flee the shop flushed red and imagining that the guys manning the security cameras are having a right hoot.
I managed to survive finding myself at the 'Painful Lives section and stayed in the shop to find a third novel, though I'm not too hopeful.

By the way, my favourite book is A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, and I recently finished his latest, Until I Find You, which, despite its great length, is also excellent and well worth the hernia you'll get lifting it off the shelf and carrying it home.