Thursday, April 20, 2006
It’s not about the books
I think we can say we are reaching an easy consensus about what people want from a bookshop, except in one big area. I’m afraid that’s the – er – books. Coffee, somewhere to sit and browse, staff who don’t scowl at you when you walk in the door, have some attempt to remember you’ve been in before and don’t spend their time ignoring you and scattering their lunch crumbs on the merchandise. But the big one of ‘I want it to be full of books I want to read’ is going to be the real challenge. I’m beginning to have some sympathy with publishers having to decide from all the submissions, which books they will actually publish and try to guess what the dear old public are going to take to their hearts. It is, as everyone recognises, such a subjective thing. I have to particularly thank http:dovegreyreader.blogsource.com for such a great (dismal) picture of her local bookshop I am quite tempted to visit, and also for her cracking piece about trying to guess the shortlist after gamely reading the Mann Booker long list. It is a lesson that sometimes you simply cannot see why everyone seems to love a book. I have long realised that I have reading tastes entirely at odds with what the rest of the world thinks is any good. I was looking at the long list for the crime novel of the year http://www.ottakars.co.uk/Internet/home/harrogateForm.jsp Now I do love crime novels, but have never warmed to the whole forensics and science of crime genre. It’s just a big turn off for me. And frankly, if I read one more serial killer yarn it’ll probably be one too many. So I wasn’t at all surprised when last year all the books I loved best never made it to the shortlist. Today’s crime is wanted gritty and realistic and the more blood and bodies the better. But I was thrilled to see a few of my favourites have at least made it to the long list again this year. It also means I know I can confidently predict exactly which ones won't make it to ths shortlist. Sorry Simon Brett, although he may sneak through as I have to confess that although I love his Fethering series mysteries, this one is actually far from being my favourite. Kate Atkinson has written a crime novel and has long been one of my adored favourite writers. But I really was knocked out to see Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley by MC Beaton make an appearance as Agatha Raisin is a quintessential cosy, set with a female amateur sleuth in the Cotswolds. Of course Agatha Raisin herself is hardly quintessential or cosy. She has various vices, makes pointedly little effort at the bring and buy sales and invites a lot of awful media types to her cottage that shock the villagers. But despite her generally appalling behaviour, she usually manages to win the sneaking admiration of the local eligible bachelors whom all the good-works spinsters of the parish are swooning after. Brilliant stuff. And I thought it was only me and half of America who was reading. Although I suspect Penelope Keith’s marvellous portrayal on Radio Four may go some way to explaining why suddenly Agatha has popped into the longlist. No guesses as to where my vote will be going. Anyway. I feel I may have digressed somewhat from the main subject. We promise we will have books people actually want to read – or, at the very least, we shall do our humble best. Do keep the suggestions coming please.