Friday, April 21, 2006

Not much changes...

I recently found the following in an online collection from the works of George Orwell (he of 1984 fame). Apparently, he worked in a used bookshop as a younger man. The amazing thing is, some decades later, I can identify with everything he says. Spooky. The whole article can be found here.

When I worked in a second-hand bookshop--so easily pictured, if you
don't work in one, as a kind of paradise where charming old gentlemen
browse eternally among calf-bound folios--the thing that chiefly struck
me was the rarity of really bookish people. Our shop had an exceptionally
interesting stock, yet I doubt whether ten per cent of our customers knew
a good book from a bad one. First edition snobs were much commoner than
lovers of literature, but oriental students haggling over cheap textbooks
were commoner still, and vague-minded women looking for birthday presents
for their nephews were commonest of all.

Many of the people who came to us were of the kind who would be a
nuisance anywhere but have special opportunities in a bookshop. For
example, the dear old lady who 'wants a book for an invalid' (a very
common demand, that), and the other dear old lady who read such a nice
book in 1897 and wonders whether you can find her a copy. Unfortunately
she doesn't remember the title or the author's name or what the book was
about, but she does remember that it had a red cover. But apart from
these there are two well-known types of pest by whom every second-hand
bookshop is haunted. One is the decayed person smelling of old
breadcrusts who comes every day, sometimes several times a day, and tries
to sell you worthless books. The other is the person who orders large
quantities of books for which he has not the smallest intention of
paying. In our shop we sold nothing on credit, but we would put books
aside, or order them if necessary, for people who arranged to fetch them
away later. Scarcely half the people who ordered books from us ever came
back. It used to puzzle me at first. What made them do it? They would
come in and demand some rare and expensive book, would make us promise
over and over again to keep it for them, and then would vanish never to
return. But many of them, of course, were unmistakable paranoiacs. They
used to talk in a grandiose manner about themselves and tell the most
ingenious stories to explain how they had happened to come out of doors
without any money--stories which, in many cases, I am sure they
themselves believed. In a town like London there are always plenty of not
quite certifiable lunatics walking the streets, and they tend to
gravitate towards bookshops, because a bookshop is one of the few places
where you can hang about for a long time without spending any money. In
the end one gets to know these people almost at a glance. For all their
big talk there is something moth-eaten and aimless about them. Very
often, when we were dealing with an obvious paranoiac, we would put aside
the books he asked for and then put them back on the shelves the moment
he had gone. None of them, I noticed, ever attempted to take books away
without paying for them; merely to order them was enough--it gave them,
I suppose, the illusion that they were spending real money.



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