Book browsing


You’re reading a book blog; chances are that you’re a reader of books.

If so, it’s a good bet that you’re trying to read the book titles in the picture above, craning your neck or fruitlessly twirling the screen on your device. Here, let me make it easier for you:


Hope that’s better. Sorry if it’s a bit out of focus.

This is how we usually encounter books, isn’t it, on shelves or maybe on a market stall (I’m talking physical books here, of course). We’re either doing our necks a mischief or we’ve somehow mastered the art of reading words placed vertically and heads up (unless the book in question is French, or early 20th-century — and then we’re flummoxed, for their titles are oriented tails up). But there is more to browsing books than simple reading, oh yes, and I shall now enumerate what thoughts come immediately to mind — though in no particular order.

  1. The Lure of the Familiar. Publishers have an in-house style don’t they? Famously, vintage Penguin Books have a distinctive look: the flightless bird, genres colour-coded, the sans serif titles all in upper case. When scanning the serried ranks on their shelves the seasoned reader takes note of subtle features like these, the eye passing over unfamiliar or amateur designs but lighting here on author names in a uniform presentation, there on a publishing house logo or elsewhere on an attractive package. Happily, Penguin Books have moved on from that one-size-fits-all ethos or else we’d go a bit do-lally, don’t you agree?
  2. Convenience store. Most paperback fiction these days comes in a standard format and size. Livres de poche, the French called them — from the days when the male reader had jacket pockets voluminous enough to accommodate them. Innovations aside, the reading public seems happy enough accept these: variations in size — say, when a hardback edition is inserted in amongst softbacks — disconcert some browsers but fail to discomfort others. Me, I tend to fall into the first category. Even though I believe that variety is the spice of life. (I sense a bit of inconsistency on my part.)
  3. Invasion of personal space. Don’t you hate it when you’ve earmarked a bay of books in a shop, head at the oblique, skimming and scanning for all you’re worth — and a stranger comes and cramps your style by standing by you? A familiar scenario? I won’t repeat what phrases course through my mind, but I do find it offputting. If it wasn’t for the fact that I’m convinced I’m about to find the perfect title or a bargain I’d flounce off and mutter silent imprecations at the back of their head. Tackle them head on? The very thought! Let them stew in their own bad-mannered ignorance.
  4. Pre-emptive strike. I also hate it when I’m approaching my predetermined bay and — horror of horrors! — some dastard is stood in my preordained space. They stand there, catatonic, clearly established in their position, and seem in no hurry to vacate the area. Their hand reaches forward — my heart lurches — are they considering the very tome, unknown to me perhaps, that should lawfully be mine to purchase? One hopes they suddenly realise that this is not the grocery store they were expecting and wander off somewhere else for their cereal packet or ready-meal.
  5. Hoi polloi. I similarly hate holiday periods when crowds, lured there by festive advertising or seasonal sales, wander like cattle into bookshops, knocking into tables piled with Buy One Get One Half Price, blocking the aisles so that the browsing time of true aficionados are severely curtailed. This is the time when every fascist fibre and elitist instinct emerges unbidden from hidden depths and wishes the whole lot would vanish like the pack of cards in Alice in Wonderland. And then I feel ungenerous and ungallant. Inglorious even.

I know these are unlikely to be my last words on the subject but here may be the best place to stop before my observations turn offensive. I shall merely ask if any of this rings true with you? Or maybe you order everything online, or simply evade these feelings of angst by using an e-reader. Over to you, but one at a time: don’t crowd each other!


17 thoughts on “Book browsing

  1. Oh dear, even Calmgrove has his flashpoints! Just as well you are not trying to choose books from the Balliol library where (I am told and maybe you can verify) books are ranked according to size of book and year of publication.

    1. It’s rare I make a public exhibition of myself with a vocal rant, Gert: I mostly conduct any peevish conversations in my head! No, a quick online search hasn’t illuminated the Balliol ranking system so I can’t confirm or otherwise whether it’s true. But if so all I can say is — nightmare.

  2. I’m quite lucky, the books I browse and end up buying are in the architecture part, churches, old buildings, and anything to do with Wales and Scotland. If anyone is near me and picks up a book on churches, I always manage to find out why they are interested, and that can be quite interesting in itself 🙂

    1. Ah, you must be a lot nicer than me Lynne! I’m definitely a solitary browser who considers chatting time a distraction from the main action, that of book hunting. Don’t get me wrong, I like a conversation with a fellow enthusiast and discovering shared passions but I also like to savour books for myself.

      1. Ha ha …no, I’m just nosey, but If I am looking for a book for light reading, then yes I do get bit twitchy when people get in the way……so just the same really 🙂

  3. Rings so true that I go out of my way to arrive first thing in the morning–stake out my turf early! Then I head to the coffee shop with my findings before the ‘inconsiderates’ barge in. 🙂 Fun read, happy new year!

    1. Thanks, Edward, glad you enjoyed this and, moreover, empathised! There’s nothing liked a new stack of books and a table where you can have a coffee uninterrupted … 🙂

  4. Made me laugh 🙂 I can usually find another bookshelf before returning to the usurped one though. The cast iron way of getting them to move on though is surely to strike up conversation and say something like ‘I preferred his older books’ or ‘so-and-so did a better similar novel’.

    1. Yes, Annabel, I too resort to the old standby of I’ve-found-a-much-more-interesting-bookshelf which seems — by some sort of imitative magic — to encourage the usurper, convinced I’m not that interested, to move on. Or so my mind works.

  5. earthbalm

    Relax, else we will be unable to refer to you as “Calmgrove”. 🙂 Interesting to see “The Tain” in the photograph. I have read Rosemary Sutcliff’s retelling “The Hound of Ulster” almost annually since my early forties. I am currently 3/4 of the way through “Villette” a choice made as a consequence of you mentioning the title. I feel I have to ask… where was the picture taken?

    1. The Tain is one of those books I started in the dim and distant past and never completed, Dale — maybe I’ll get back to it this year. I’d forgotten Sutcliff had written her version of it, though I’ve never read that either.

      I’m looking forward to your assessment of Villette as Shirley is another recently acquired Bronte novel I want to tackle. The photo? I took it when I laid out books I’d taken down off shelves before painting them (the shelves not the books) and thought they made an interesting pattern. Whether that’s true or not I’ll leave you to be the judge! Here are some of the shelves after painting:

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