Monday, December 20, 2004

What's the Matter With Waterstones?



I am fairly lucky, living in a small town which has a large University-based population, so there are several bookshops and even an arts cinema, even if it does show films about 6 months later than everywhere else.

However, I've noticed a change in the local Waterstones bookshop over the last few years. A definite dumbing-down-down-down. My Waterstones is quite small, but in the past there were sections for gay novels, cult novels and "black" writing. All this has now gone. And what's in place? A whole section on cats. Another section on doing things with extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Another section about taking walks in France. All very good if you are a middle-class 48 year old woman called Anne, but not so much fun for anyone else.

In addition, there seem to be more and more books that aren't actually proper books at all, but are more for people who don't really like to read. These "books" tend to be quite small, have lots of pictures in them, and are "funny". I know that this is more of a trend at Christmas, but they do seem to be gaining ground throughout the year. They tend to have titles like "Crap Towns" or "Bad Hairstyles". They take all of 10 minutes to read. I guess they're for people who don't like to commit to having to read a full book, but would rather be seen to have books in their house, without the nasty fuss of reading/thinking.

I always instinctively distrust and hate people who say they never read books. I feel like saying, "OK, how about you give your human DNA back and become a horse instead!" I regularly have about five books on the go at once, and have always read from an early age. I got eye strain as a child because I would never go straight to sleep, but would read under the covers. While I also love television and particularly film, I do think that there's something you get from a book that tv/film can't give you (and vice versa for that matter). Maybe with the likes of Amazon, bookshops have had to go for a lower common denominator in order to survive. But it does make browsing a smallish bookshop into a less enjoyable experience. Now where's the balsamic vinegar?