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The Lost Dignity

August 22nd, 2009 by Peter

It was Salman Rushdie who offered the opinion that The Da Vinci Code was ‘a novel so bad that it gives bad novels a bad name’ but it still romped on to sell sixty million copies. Then again, more people than that voted for George W. Bush and look how that worked out.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve probably noticed that Dan Brown has a sequel coming out. There are subtle hints that have appeared around about that may have indicated this to you; the myriad of posters appearing like a bad dose of the pox around every bookstore, the pre-order offers emblazoned in adverts in the press, the fact that every time you buy something people feel obliged to try and persuade you to pre-order The Lost Symbol at the same time. It is, in short, inescapable.

An industry that should have some degree of self-respect and dignity has flung it all aside in a desperate rush to prostrate itself at the feet of Mammon and sell as many units as possible. It does not matter whether or not The Lost Symbol is good, bad or indifferent; what matters to them is that it will make them all lots of money.

Now, I’m not naive. Businesses have to run and have to try to turn a profit, as such something you know will sell units must be promoted. The promotion for The Lost Symbol, however, is all just too much. It’s everywhere and whether you like it or not if you wish to go to a bookstore you can’t escape it. It’s been this way since April – an unprecedented amount of time to be promotion a forthcoming book for. It’s not based on any merit but solely on the fact that dollar signs have appeared in the eyes of the store owners.

Part of the wonder of bookshops is that there are so many titles, such a great variety that you can go in and look through and choose from. Yes, some titles will be promoted but usually not to the extent that visitors to the store can’t escape them. Most readers don’t read because everyone else is doing it. They read because they choose to for their own enjoyment. Reading is different from other forms of entertainment, in a culture dominated by instant gratification books take a little time, you have to make a concious choice to take time out and read.

There is something wonderfully democratic about the fact that there is such a huge variety of books and most of them get the same amount of space in a bookstore – the width of their spine. Can it really be that we’ve reached the stage where bookshops are now just another place for marketing and promotion – placement over product, style over substance? Perhaps it makes me a hopeless old romantic but I tend to think that bookshops should be different; they should be in some way less commercial than other shops, more about the love of books than shamelessly shifting anything they can on their customers. This September instead of seeing The Lost Symbol I’d really like to see bookshops get back their Lost Dignity.

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