Friday, 30 July 2010

Charity begins on the bookshelves

Like most itinerant boaters the first stop in a new town is its shopping centre - not to trudge round Primark or M&S but hit the charity shops. And Mission One in these is the bookshelves.
If you're a bloke, that is, since we take it as a given that virtually any men's clothing will be either worn out or well out of fashion before we're prepared to give it away. Mrs B, on the other hand, almost invariably manages to find some clothing bargain, as women seem so much more profligate at chucking stuff out. (Or maybe they just buy so much more and, in the words of the marketing men, the 'churn' is greater.)
But back to the books. Sometimes there are dozens and dozens of 'em. How do you pick a winner? It can be as tricky as picking a winner in a horse race. Here's the way I do it. I skim rapidly across the shelves. My eyes pass over anything with pale blues or pink covers and swirling tyography - definitely romances or light comedies - I stop at those with bold, chunky typography - men's stuff; crime and thrillers - but don't linger too long on those with embossed silver or gold - usually the sign of a poorly written 'train ride' read.
A few things will jump out. Then it's the back cover synopsis. Detectives with drink problems or broken marriages go back on the shelf. (I know the best of these - Ian Rankin, James Lee Burke - and I don't want to waste time on copycat others.) So too do those with any of the other cliched issues - tragic secrets, lost loves, SAS plots, terrorism etc etc.
All too often my browse leaves me with nothing new and it's time to go back and look for the regular favourites - Patrick O'Brien, James Lee Burke, James Ellroy and various others. A couple of pacey thrillers if I've just ploughed my way through a heavyweight maybe. Or vice versa.
Or maybe I pick a classic - Hemmingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls was a tough rad but worth it, Wilkie Colins' The Moonstone an entertaining Victorian melodrama. And Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury) was a stunner. Written over 50 years ago its tale of a society that burns books foresaw a future where everyone walks around wearing earpiece radios playing music, where entertainment is quiz shows with easy answers, where communication has been so condensed and condensed it now rarely takes more than a minute or a paragraph to put something across and where mass media has become bland because of a need not to offend any of a multiplicity of minority groups. Scary, prescient stuff!
Anyway, my point is, I'd really like to find a way to break some new ground in my charity shop reading; to discover some new authors that suit my taste. Maybe I just need to go armed with a blindfold and pin and hope I don't come back with a John Grisham or a Dan Brown.


John Sloan said...

I am the same about choosing books in charity shops, in fact when i was recently in Stourport I dropped a load of books off at one of the charity shops.
Have you read Stieg Larsson "Millenium" series I was very pleasantly surprised at how good they are.

Starman said...

Yes, I read the first, thought it superb and saw the others on a 2 for 1 offer at Tesco just before Father's Day - which was handy. They were just as good. Larsson's life (and death) might make an even better mystery yarn one day.