What a crazy world – no browsing in a bookshop!

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

I couldn’t believe it – I was passing my time while I waited to get the train to Lancaster by mooching in Waterstones in Portland Walk. All right, it’s a poxy branch of a poxy (but once amazingly brilliant!) chain, and it’s all the poxier since it ceased to be an Ottakars, which provided seats and took an interest in local writers instead of simply relying on piling up populist tosh and selling it cheap, but it’s the only one in town. Anything of any interest is banished upstairs, and I was up there browsing amongst the drama, the poetry, the pop science, the travel, and the polemic. Oh, and the single small shelf of “Classics” which covers everything from Homer to E M Forster (but missing most of it). And the half-price section of course. In the drama section I found a Penguin copy of Keith Waterhouse’s Billy Liar and took it over to the rather gormless young man behind the counter to point out that this was in fact a novel, not a play, and should in fact be shelved downstairs with the general fiction (though being fifty years old I strongly suspect that it had been ordered in error; after all, today’s readers won’t ‘identify’ with Billy Fisher.) Gormless young man seemed disappointed that I didn’t want to buy it, perhaps because he really didn’t have very much to do, but I poited out that I had read it years ago and although I love the film, the novel is not one I feel much inclination to read twice. And I carried on browsing.

A little while later gormless young man – who looked like he hadn’t shaved for a week, hadn’t briushed his hair, and was wearing a shirt that looked as though he had grabbed it from the laundry just as he was rushing out of the front door – stomped over and said, huffily, that “this isn’t a library, you know!” I pointed out, politely, that this was a bookshop and browsing was what you do in bookshops, and the one advantage a high street bookshop has over Amazon is that you can browse the books, and besides, what were these Ottakars-provided window seats for? Piling up surplus stock? Whereupon gormless young man became surly. Discretion being the better part of valour (another Shakespeare phrase!) I withdrew from the fray. It just wasn’t worth it. But I will be writing to Waterstones HQ to ask what happened to Tim Waterstone’s ideals and try to ensure a bollocking for gormless young man.

I’ll stick to Amazon in future. At least Amazon has what I want to buy; trying to get anything from somebody else’s wishlist from Barrow Waterstones is a nightmare (I could usually get at least some from the Broad Street, Reading, branch.)

Is it time to call for a boycott of big corporate bully Waterstones, do you think?

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8 Responses to “What a crazy world – no browsing in a bookshop!”

  1. jacinta_in_kent Says:

    Well done for standing up for your rights (which I think you usually do anyway!).

    If you want me to shame them shop, I could write something my citizen journalist site.

    PS The same thing happened to me once in a newsagent and I am tempted to get my revenge

  2. neil h Says:

    That’s really poor that, and probably worth a complaint to the head office. I thought the idea was to encourage customers to sit down and read books?


  3. Well you wouldn’t get that kind of treatment in my bookshop!! The only time we want the customer to leave is at closing time, and even then, we let people browse on until the lights dim at 25 to 6, which is an automatic dimming and nothing to do with us!

  4. Anoria Says:

    Ouch. I always get uncomfortable when A.J. spends a long time standing in our favourite bookshop reading the same book, since neither of us buys anything from there all that frequently, but he’s never encountered any trouble from employees about it. But then again, they’re the friendly kind of place with seats all over and two fireplaces (one in the attached cafe), and they look like a big chain at first glance but actually only have five local stores (well, local by Michigan standards. Less than an hour’s drive from each other).

    I would offer you the loan of a tall, dashing, intimidating young man to take into shops on your arm to make sure you don’t get hassled by the staff, but I have a feeling that you’d rather just not get hassled by the staff at all, which is more fair but possibly less fun.

  5. Diane/tvor Says:

    I wouldn’t think it’s a Waterstone’s issue, just an issue with gormless young man. I’d definitely complain both to head office and his branch’s manager.

  6. enitharmon Says:

    Dawn, I’m minded to accept the offer of your tall, dashing, young man anyway! But I couldn’t do that toa friend!

    Diane, I’m pretty sure you are right that it isn’t a Waterstones issue but a letter is on its way to the CEO which makes reference to the ideals of the Blessed Tim Waterstone, who created the original brilliant shops!

  7. Sid Smith Says:

    This isn’t a surprise really. A while ago I was listening to a Radio 4 book of the week which had been heavily trailed and praised in the Sunday press as well. Like almost everyone of a certain age, I love browsing in a bookshop and though I could’ve clicked a mouse and had the book delivered to my front door, I opted to put my coat on, travel 30 minutes on a train into Newcastle and then into Waterstones.

    Imagine my joy at having to politely wait whilst two workers (I use the term loosely) finished their conversation about the latest shenanigans on Eastenders, only to tell me they’d never heard of the title in question.

    I looked at the computer sitting between them and suggested they might be able to tell me when it would be in stock. They continued the in-depth discussion about the soap opera whilst occasionally looking at the in-house search engine.

    “Sorry but I can’t find anything about it. It mustn’t be out yet” I was told – this despite it’s huge media profile. After that it’s been Amazon all the way!


  8. […] 3 May 2008 Meanwhile, in a further development in The Case of the Bookshop that Bans Browsing, a letter arrives in this morning’s post from HMV […]


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