A book for Christmas
“A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking” – Jerry Seinfeld
Christmas is coming, and, for many, it’s the yearly mandatory outing to the bookshop: a suitably weighty biography for an aunt, a thriller for a workmate, a novel for a sister, and for the teenager a “story of my life” by a juvenile pop star whose life has barely begun . . . Almost certainly many of us, unlike any other set of purchases, will spend as much on books for others as we do for ourselves.
The pity is that, in the manic Christmas crush, the bookshop experience is not at its best. Not surprisingly, sadly, many defect to the internet to make their purchases, depriving increasingly hardpressed booksellers of vital sales when they need them most – some third of the 9.6 million books sold in Ireland are sold in the 12 weeks before Christmas. Meanwhile, the sale of books here continues its decline, down this year a further 7.6 per cent overall (certainly more in bookshops as Amazon erodes their market share). “Running a bookstore is a combat sport,” a recent report by France’s Culture Ministry concluded, and the booksellers are losing.
Yet, in a good bookshop, leisurely browsing – pity the word has been appropriated by Interneters for a very different experience – is to reading what the Slow Cooking Movement is to food. And, like slow cooking, it is being lost in this time-short age. “To buy books would be a good thing if we also could buy the time to read them,” philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer argued nearly 200 years ago. He could have added “or even to peruse them”.
Like reading a newspaper in its printed form the bookshop experience is one of the great joys precisely because of the way random trawls turn up the gloriously unexpected, the classic writing, the humorous, the bizarre, unprompted by search engines that sift out for us the “most-read” or their algorithms’ version of stories our profile would supposedly enjoy. Support your local bookseller.