i like second-hand bookshops. i’m glad i wasn’t born much later than 1976, or real bookshops might have been, as with vinyl, something seen in passing en route to oblivion, only encountered in period drama & folklore. They don’t seem even remotely commercially viable, so can only exist as a rich man’s hobby, i suppose. i rule out the alternative – state funding, as this would entail the removal or marginalisation of anything associated with native English culture, the forcible introduction of black, female, lesbian/gay, handicapped literature, and ample Chomsky. Jimmy Saville would prowl the aisles looking for boys. The walls would be unhappily decorated with posters of beaming black women, arm in arm with their Asian girlfriends or feeding locally-produced tofu to their adopted, multiracial children. If writers like Kipling, Theodore Dalrymple, Roger Scruton, Larkin, etc. were admitted, it would be in a special section, labelled “Fascism”. With a picture of Hitler and some dead Jews and traumatised kittens.
i also don’t like 1st-hand bookshops. i don’t like new books and i don’t like the totally organised shelves. In a modern bookshop some hipster businessman has determined everything. No matter what you do, he will smirk and rub his thighs and steeple his hands and simper: “Yes, the data indicated this response.” Nor do i like Oxfam though i often go there as i can’t find any reasonable alternatives for cheap, unpredictable books. But the atmosphere is wrong – antiseptic and managed.
i don’t believe bookshops should be clean or well-lit. They should be dark and dusty and ill-tended. Cats should perch on top shelves, scowling. Large, smelly dogs should wander the aisles, moulting. The staff should not wear a uniform. They should not smile unless so moved. They should be beautiful women and/or manifestly insane. The pricing should not make any sense. Cabbalistic manuscripts should be randomly wedged between books. Some of the books should be hollowed-out wooden blocks containing guns or saints’ relics (bones etc). Behind a row of encyclopaedias there will be a Crusader’s sword, covered in blood. One day you will realise that the surly, wall-eyed dwarf behind the counter is actually your favourite living writer; and then you will feel sick and leave in chagrin.