There’s a simple solution that can help us fight the way we’re going to have heavily marketed books thrust in our faces in bookshops and supermarkets all through the gift-giving season. It’s a bit naughty but could be a fun idea for the weekend. It’s the book-lover's silent but effective protest.
What you do is this. You go into the bookshop, careful not to look with distaste at the piles of books in prominent positions on the display tables. Just saunter along as you would usually and browse along a few shelves, picking out books at random and putting them back.
Then find a book you really admire and spend a little time with it. Wander along and select another. As you dilly dally along with your books, with that ‘Shall I buy?’ look on your face, choose an opportune moment and stick your favourite book on top of one of the piles on the best display table.
This works very well for novels and nonfiction. You might even want to put a cookbook with tasty recipes on top of Jamie Oliver’s barely edible inventions. Poetry is a bit more tricky.
If you can find the poetry books you like – in fact if you can find the poetry section at all (it will be very small and tucked away in a back corner or downstairs) you probably can’t get away with moving a book to the prime positions in the shop.
What you can do is take out the book you like best, read the blurb innocently, and put it back leaning against the others with its cover showing instead of spine only. It will look so nice like that. If you’re feeling very naughty you might find they have some special little stands tucked among the poetry books to display the usual suspects well and you can trump them with your selection.
Of course, you’re likely to find that the poetry collections you would most like to see displayed aren’t in the shop at all. Bookshops rarely take poetry, they dedicate a tiny set of shelves to it, and they’re unlikely even to take a good book sale or return. The shelves are crammed too tight already so they want to offload poetry whenever possible.
The only naughty answer to this is to follow the instructions in the Ann Drysdale poem ‘Between Dryden and Duffy’. Do Google it for the best methods – it’s one of the funniest comedy sonnets I’ve seen.
The poet in the poem looks along the shelf for her book, and when she doesn’t find it she clears that space between Dryden and Duffy and inserts one from her supermarket carrier bag. Of course, not all poet’s names fall into such a great position by happy accident.
So there are ways to get real books displayed. The prime display positions in the bookshops have been marked out and are all nicely prepared waiting for your choices. Something naughty to do at the weekend? I’m not going to admit if I’m already doing it.