Thursday, September 10, 2009

Corporate Bookshops Still Suck



My local bookstore is evil and amiable now - licked with a corporate coat of paint and reset as some sort of hippie enclave with leopard skin seats on which you can sit and read the books while staff mill around you, but no pressure man. Today, it was playing Deep Forest over the PA system. Deep Forest! What manner of evil possesses a man to dust off that gem. There's no intellectual heart in the centre of this new bookish world, heightened by the fact that the man who used to work in the old book store, so windswept and interested as he listened to his IPOD of classical music, has now been recast as a man with a corporate smile, his beard neatly trimmed, his access to Google unfettered. In fact today I heard him recite a review for a particular book as if that sinister office out the back contained a smiling American corporate trainer. 1ne that specialised in horrible games you have to play in the first hour where you talk about the person next to you and what makes them smile. I would put down my purchase and ask what happened to you, but I suspect he'd be dragged into that office and re-educated. Alas it's either this - taking my chances in a deep forest of books and children - or fight my grey haired nemesis in KMart to get to a copy of whichever non fiction book has taken my fancy at the time. KMarts intellectual properties have taken a strong battering with being stocked shelf to shelf with books by a footballers wife who has taken photos of people and called it a book, the same way last night I put 6ix party sausage rolls in the microwave and called it a meal. Yes, get me and my incredible ability to metaphorically represent 1ne event in comparison to another, like some regular Danny Bhoy. At least it's enclave from sales pressure, overly familiar sandwich waitresses, women with curly grey hair, pensive Chinese bracelet saleswomen and various temptresses in different colours of eye shadow, either clutsy or distant, depending on the shop that I stand outside...

My book purchasing style is fairly straightforward, in that no thought goes into what I buy, I just buy something because I want to learn about it and am seduced by bylines and appreciative quotes. What's weird is that for a long time I was terrified of learning. I worked with this girl who would loiter around the office for ages, just leaning hip on metal against a filing cabinet. She was a largeish girl, with her hair in a ponytail, very serious about herself and her work, and she would literally pounce on any conversation that revolved around someone trying to teach someone else how to do something. She was a perfect comedy character, because she had invented her own catchphrase. She would leap less than gracefully from her leaning on the lampost position in a swish of powerful movement, all in the hips, and would say that she would love to learn, elongating the r and the n into infinity, the way the actress that played Phoebe in Neighbours would when she was on English Have a Go. You really had no choice but to involve her in your discussion, and she wouldn't say anything, she would not frantically and try and take everything in, like a big sponge in black pants. She had a Hello Kitty notebook that she would then jot everything down in, in a flowing cursive font only she could decipher. Eventually she left in a fit of pique because someone made a joke about how many Tick Tock biscuits she was eating from the tin. From then on I've been relentlessly suspicious of the office Tigger, the person who's first day is spent bouncing around looking for things to do. They end up disillusioned like everyone else, eating biscuits or Doritos and cursing the lack of things to do. Some of them even make a little toy pig out of erasers at meetings, and when they do that, well, it really is the end. The Hello Kitty notebook goes in the bin, the learning ceases, and like Mecca, everyone ends up facing the clock and praying...

The book store is packed today. It's also small, so every nuance of Deep Forest can penetrate my brain wherever I go, and whenever small children run through the tiny space between me and the books they charge into my leg. I feel this great desire to start shaking my fist in an angry way in their direction, but so far I haven't done this. I will get there eventually, the same day I take to wearing slippers and a housecoat to the bus stop. There's a woman at the back of the store, with a Bea Arthur haircut and 1ne of those jumpers you must inherit at a certain age. It's not quite Jenny Kee, but it's on the way, and somehow it's still dull. If I can restrain myself from shaking an angry fist at children, her opinions are not restrained by social mores. After careful thought and ponderance, she yells out to no one in particular the trouble with this book store is there's far too much David Horowitz and it's completely stupid. I don't know who David Horowitz is, maybe the kids like him, but she's absolutely certain of this, repeating it as a Rainman style statement of fact until pretty much everyone is looking at her, and listening to her solo show on the problem with the bookstore. Even Deep Forest take a break from their mid 90tys musings to listen in. She's painted herself into a corner of course, as so vehement is her criticism of the bookstore, so loud has she been, that she has to leave, for she has spat out this opinion in such a hissy way that to back down and buy the book in her hand would seem like a meek surrender to the corporate world. Or at least the pleasant Irish girl behind the counter might not be so pleasant for a change. She slinks out in the end, and a small child comes from the humour section chasing a runaway balloon and almost cannons into her kneecaps. I swear at this moment, I look over and see a man behind the counter ready to explode at the corporate world he's found himself enslaved in, but he holds it together, typing in random words into Google, trapped in a pressed blue shirt listening to Deep Forest until the end of time...

It gets too much for me in the end, and I too leave, replaced in my spot by a family entirely in denim who demand a giant volume of Footrot Flats is picked out of a glass case and sold to them. My Dad, who is in Melbourne with my Mum - and incidentally who I've been worried about for 2wo days because they had a row at the airport about how long my Dad spends "dotering" about the place, and what can I say, he loves to loiter - has sent me a txt msg telling me that he's bought me some books from a 2nd hand book store in Melbourne that I apparently would just love, run by a Greek man with joy in his heart and a love of books that he just has to share in the world. Well, that's what I interpret the message as, my Dad isn't a good txter and mis-spells books and my name, but I imagine he's sent me some sort of metaphorical grass is greener txt, the kind of thing that resonates weirdly when you are feeling down and tired and need a change of scenery. Thanks Dad, you normally just bring me back a Macaroon bar, not a manifestly clear representation of how things in other places that aren't here, aren't a lost afternoon between bits of work, are really excellent, while you get to loiter your little old heart out. I smile at my own 30+ angst. I wonder what I would have written about when I was young and carefree, how I would have interpreted the world and all it's foibles. I think I would thought nothing of book stores, been more accepting of other people crashing into my legs and reaching over me to pick and maul at the latest ramblings of Buzz Aldrin or Kathy Lette. The Chinese woman at the bracelet table still sits there, staring outwardly. I think for a moment she raised an eyebrow in my direction, a shared moment of mutual stress, as if she knows that I know that she's putting on an act, that the slightest fault could make her stamp her feet. I don't stick around to find out though - I'm tired, I'm hungry, and really, I don't want to learn....

I'm sure though that Deep Forests first line is pass the sausage over the Tarago...how does that sell books?

6 comments:

G said...

Bookstores....I love to peruse the aisles, checking out the various new titles and the like (lean towards true crim and all of its various ugly sub-genres).

Very rarely do I purchase a book, unless its non-fiction. Main reason is money. Most of the stuff is just so expensive that sometimes its easier to borrow it from the public library.

Miles McClagan said...

I only ever buy non fiction, Dan Brown has put me off novels for life I'm afraid...

I only read books where I can learn something. Bloody house is full of them...

Kath Lockett said...

Deep Forest and Kathy Lette (shudder) - there's a hellish duo for you!

Miles McClagan said...

Throw in annoying children and it's hell on earth with a well stocked shelf...

Evil Overlord said...

I've been fantasising about being a Bernard Black like bookkeeper again. I think I have the hair for it. I don't brush it until I get to work, so when I stop at the cafe to get my coffee on the way, in my oversized sophia loren-esque style sunglasses and possibly in need of ironing clothes, I expect I project the very picture of dissolution and degeneracy, when really I've gone to bed by 8:30 with a book and many cats in a purring fur puddle.

Miles McClagan said...

I'm afraid this book store is too clean and neat and corporate. The filthy 1ne in Hobart is dying for a Black touch. It's sort of there, the level of dis-organisation is shocking, but the guy is too nice...a shame...