Today I read the article by the superb Stephen Sparks ‘Introducing: Bookselling in the 21st Century’. In this he casts a sceptical eye over the renewed growth of the bookselling industry, as well as assessing- equally sceptically- the manic enthusiasm with which people applaud this growth.
It is a worrying article, in which he openly states that any congratulations aimed at the bookselling industry is laced with anxiety for a field which is by no means out of the woods.
Most worryingly, after reading this, I was forced to consider my own role in this empty enthusiasm and was faced with the uncomfortable truth that I am complicit in this gushing, yet hollow, praise. I say this because last week I was at a book store launch- one of many such courageous openings according to the literary media- and I did not actually buy a book. I arrived, made some friends, spied some potential contacts, sat through the reading and left early so as to cycle home before it got too dark.
I did consider making a purchase, I really did. Once I admitted to myself that I wasn’t going to be supplying the establishment with any fiscal support at all, however, I felt a little guilty eating my complimentary ham and crackers. And all of this makes me anxious that Stephen Sparks may be right.
Does this burgeoning hope for a renewed and refreshed bookselling scene resemble the loud grievances that were voiced as people were faced with the potential close of libraries? I was there, too. I was saddened and appalled at the closing of my local library, the place I’d spent half my childhood, leaving with a bulging bag of books slung over my shoulder every few days. And yet this indignation did not lead me to renewing my library card. I do not remember when I last borrowed a book. Inwardly, I accepted the fate of the libraries, just as I expressed my outrage at the closure of Waterstones and Borders two years ago whilst excitedly downloading more e-books on my kindle.
Booksellers, please accept my apology. And Stephen Sparks, perhaps you could refrain from any more uncomfortable truths for a short while?