I was waiting in teen-taxi last night and it was too dark to read so I flicked through the radio stations looking for a distraction, and stumbled across James Daunt spouting forth about bookshops and the physical book. I found myself agreeing with most of what he said. I started scribbling down words and phrases and getting goosebumps when I realised the truth of what he had to say and how this might connect with my own thoughts about bookshops, libraries, book festivals and reading.
Daunt talked about how chain bookselling had lost its way, been driven by the cheque book and had crushed individuality for the sake of profit. In the long run, he said, this is what had actually driven their customers away. He thought it was time to restore individuality and engage with local communities. While I didn’t agree with his thoughts on children’s reading, I found points of commonality in what he said: about how some niche bookshops can be intimidating and how supermarkets as bookshops provided a good introduction to books for those people who might never otherwise enter a bookshop.
There’s no denying the appeal of digital, but there’s no human connection involved in one-click book-buying. Because there’s also no denying that people like talking about books, sharing books and meeting authors. Book Festivals and author events are hugely popular for more than just literary bookish folk. So I wondered, what if there was a way to combine selling and reading? What if you could open a space within supermarkets and bookshops and libraries (which are now so much more than simply a place for books) as reading rooms? A space that was open to all to enjoy a book and pass on good reads, somewhere to share the pleasure of reading? And by all I mean EVERYONE, even those who enjoy celebrity hardbacks and trashy novels and for whom kindle means literally to start a fire.
Combine Daunt’s talk with the appalling unemployment statistics and it’s worth exploring how bookshops, libraries and supermarkets can combine somehow to restore a sense of community. Perhaps they could provide commercially-sponsored places where people can test and try books, buy books, read and share stories and even, perhaps, create their own stories.
By this I don’t mean a return to eighteenth-century subscription libraries or circulating libraries where access to books was according to class, wealth and gender, but something more accessible, which will benefit booksellers and readers and also their communities.
I haven’t worked out how this can be done or who might do it or fund it and I know I’m just thinking aloud and probably annoying half the really good, community-based independent bookshops who do cater to all their readers. But I’m sure even they would admit they’d enjoy a return to a time when bookshops were busier and trade was stronger.
Anyway, enough ‘thinking’ – have a listen to JD.
I’ve put link to the podcast below and in case this doesn’t work I’ve added a link to the BBC4 Four Thought website where you can scroll down and find the James Daunt Podcast.
Intro – “Recorded in front of an audience at the RSA in London, speakers take to the stage to air their latest thinking on the trends, ideas, interests and passions that affect our culture and society.”
James Daunt issues a ringing defence of printed books, and argues that libraries and local bookshops – the ‘purveyors of the written word’ – are vital social and cultural spaces. Brought in to turn around the Waterstone’s chain of bookshops, he argues that book chains should continue to play a vital role in introducing readers to books, but will only succeed if they re-connect with their communities.
BBC Radio 4 – Four Thought Website – scroll down to ‘James Daunt’ and play.
PS – I’m sorry about these unruly ads – they’re random and from wordpress not from me