Monday, 25 January 2016

Buy More Books!

MHB in happier days
   A little late for resolutions maybe but one of mine this year is to buy more books. Let me qualify this, although in fact I mean it quite literally: to actually go into bookshops, preferably independent ones when I can find them, and pay good money for a poetry-volume or novel which I've taken time to browse through and select and which I can hold in my hands.
   The reasons for this are palpable. We live in a world where this pleasurable, enriching, sensory experience is gradually disappearing from our grasp. Independent bookshops, formerly common, now number less than 1000 across the UK. They are harder to find on our high streets than libraries, which have of course suffered a parallel decline.The few that remain desperately need our custom - imagine the cultural loss entailed if we allow them to become extinct.
   Amazon may have agreed to pay back some of the vast amounts of tax they've evaded in  past years but we all know it's a tiny drop in the ocean of their profits. Many of us - most of us! - are still waiting for the financial upturn George Osborne keeps banging on about so the temptation is always there to One-Click your way to a cheap online bargain. E-books, with their minimal production costs, are part of this mechanism and can be cheaper still to purchase. But each time we do this we're actually undercutting the viability of bookshops to stay afloat and unfortunately we're at the stage now where all writers and book-lovers have to invest in the continuing future of this vital, dwindling resource.
   This was brought home to me the other day when I visited one of the best independents in North London, Muswell Hill Bookshop, only to find it had halved in size - they had lost the lease on the second section, I was told. While obviously having to reduce their selection of stock, staff have had to be creative in their use of space and shelving in order to fit more books into the smaller area. Nevertheless, amid the somewhat cloistered new layout, I chanced on Bottled Air by Caleb Klaces in its handsome Eyewear hardback, a volume I'd never seen in a bookshop before. Though no doubt I could have found it cheaper online than the £13 I paid, I felt happy to support not only this shrinking business that elects to stock such interesting, non-commercial titles but also the small independent publisher that brings out beautifully-presented books of quirky, intelligent poetry like Klaces'.

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