Things I Learned Today

Today, I learned that Google has the answer to life, the universe, and everything.

Also, that some people really, really don't enjoy the experience of shopping in big chain bookstores. One can only pity the poor but honest bookseller concerned ("our music selection is really bad"), and hope that his employers can't work out who was on duty at that particular Borders on that particular day at that particular time by careful study of the article.

I feel driven, however, to think back on some of my experiences in much smaller, single-proprietor bookshops, which owe much more to Bernard Black than to some rose-tinted post-Victorian vision of a kindly old gent in bifocals with a cat sleeping on top of a mound of poetry. There never was a Golden Age of small bookshops, I'm afraid, whatever the perceived faults of the modern chain bookstores.

I particularly recall one small bookshop - and I mean about the size of your living room - which contained The Worst Toilet In The World, that had never, never been cleaned by the establishment's owner.

The owner himself was indistinguishable from a vagrant who had simply wandered in one day and plumped himself, all wild hair and unwashed tattered clothing, behind the counter in order to eat jam tarts, read dog-eared novels and shout at anyone who dared ask where anything was. Said owner was also in the habit (I kid you not) of designing helpful signs pointing to different sections of the bookshop in the form of hastily scrawled notes written in biro on sheets of A4 paper. These were then sellotaped to bits of string whose opposite ends were, in turn, sellotaped to the ceiling. As you entered the shop, the gentlest of breezes would rush in and send a blizzard of paper flapping around your head in a most disconcerting fashion.

I also learned that Cormac McCarthy's The Road is a better book than Walter M. Miller's Canticle For Leibowitz, or at least that Sam Jordison at The Guardian makes a convincing case. As Jordison himself notes in the comments following his article, "... I do wonder if part of the issue is that books get classified as 'SF' rather than 'literary fiction' because of flaws that are common across the genre... information dumping, technology fetishisation, or (as here) a lack of modulation on the 'preach' button."


Bob Lock said...

The Road is definitely a novel I'd recommend to anyone, Gary. Whether or not you are a fan of SF as this goes beyond genres and I think would be enjoyed by everyone. I'd say it skirts the outer edges of SF anyway and is by no means mainstream SF. Can't comment on how it stands up against Miller's book as it is one I have yet to read.


Zyn said...

I exclusively buy all my books (at least 1 a week) from a small specialist SF & Fantasy bookshop. They know me, and they know what I like, and I like that they recommend new authors (like you Gary) for me to read.

paul f cockburn said...

Tell me, though... does Google also have the Question to Life, the Universe and Everything?