Better Read than Dead

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This is about books. Not literature. I have no pretensions in that direction. I have been to Hay on Wye but not for the book festival. I’d be worrying all the time about the toilets.

Books have always been important to me. They were around the house when I was young. Both of my parents were keen readers and I suppose it rubs off.


We may have lived modestly but  there was always a good book to hand on the upstairs landing

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My father devoured books on any subject. He would bring back from the library half a dozen at a time, fiction and non-fiction, and, whatever the rest of the family might be doing, he would sit and read, impervious to distraction. It was a given that we would join the local library wherever we lived.

My mother told me that her own parents took a less positive view of books. If she was seen with one in her hand, it must be because she didn’t have enough to do, so tasks would be found. I worry that an element of this may have been passed onto me. While I’m comfortable reading a newspaper at any time,  night or day, and indeed would feel lost without one on a train or in a doctor’s waiting room, I still experience a sense of guilt at picking up an actual book – and especially a work of fiction – during daylight hours, unless I’m on holiday. Still, as Mrs. Blog will confirm, I’m getting over it. You have to work at these things.

Mum also had a thing about the physical presence of a book, and that’s definitely something I’ve inherited. She would relish the quality of the paper, the cover and even the smell and this may explain why I experience an actual wave of pleasure and anticipation on entering a bookshop. It’s not just a case of popping in because I need something to read, like forcing myself into Homebase for a packet of screws. The scanning of the shelves, the leafing through the contents, the buying (and use of the loyalty card), are all part of the project. Is that too weird? Is that what blogdaughter is undergoing in a shop full of tops?

My fondness for the very “look” of a book doesn’t extend in the same way to second hand books but explains why I’m ultra-careful about damage. If you put your mug down on my book, there’ll be words said. In this blog’s code of criminality folding the corner of the page is on a par with dunking your digestive biscuit.

This love of books in physical form doesn’t fit well with e-books, and it places a high value on the presence of bookshops. I’m saddened when I hear of their closure, and particularly of small independents.



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This is the 8th annual Independent Booksellers Week: click here for more on cherishing our bookshops.


I think it all stems from the ending of the fixed book price agreement. No, wait! Don’t go!

I’m in no position to pontificate on the economy of book publishing and selling. Two (at least two) reasons: first, I don’t know anything about it, and second, I buy loads of books online as well as through proper shops, independent and chain. But, as I understand it, the agreement in place in this country until its revocation in 1995 (and I actually remember the fuss at the time. I’m like that) was based on the idea  that a network of well-stocked, high quality bookshops is necessary for the publication of a large variety of books, this being “a good thing” for the nation’s cultural life. If supermarkets, which stock their shelves only with  the current blockbusters, are permitted to sell these at a reduced price and these books represent a large proportion of book sales, bookshops with their higher operating costs and wider stock range will lose out. The “Net Book Agreement” fixed the price, prevented discounting and allowed the publisher to guarantee a sufficient profit margin for specialist bookshops to operate.

This kind of protectionism may be out of favour these days (and online sales now offer even greater competition), but many nations have retained pricing agreements or are considering their reintroduction. On the one hand, the ending of the agreement has meant that many books are now cheaper and, if that means more books being read, I’m all for it, but it also seems to mean a narrower range of books being published and an accelerated decline in the number of bookshops. (It may also be that cheaper books mean fewer visits to public libraries). You may wish to draw parallels with the impact of supermarket chains on other specialist shops in the high street, but I couldn’t possibly comment. At least not in this blog.

Despite these concerns, there’s clearly a lot of books out there and I’m unlikely to get through all of them, even if I overcome my feelings of guilt about reading in the hours of daylight.

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Mrs. Blog and I own too many books now. They’re hard to part with because, well, they’re part of your life, who you are, who you were.

I’ve always read a lot of non-fiction, not all of it of great moment. In the words of Jerome K Jerome (Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow):

“It is in the petty details, not in the great results, that the interest of existence lies.”

…which is an approach to life and reading that has come in handy occasionally in quizzes. But I’m getting better at reading fiction, which probably makes me less boring at dinner parties (though Mrs. Blog says this isn’t the case).

I do find it slightly unnerving that, having finished a book, I’m buggered if I can remember what happened in it. I think there’s a word for that but can I remember it??

But at least I usually know what the book is about at the time. An old university friend, a devoted reader himself, once told me that his less academic younger brother found that books didn’t come naturally to him. One brief conversation had gone along these lines:

“So, what have you been up to today at school?”


“About what?”

“About thirty pages.”


I also believe I read “normally”, whatever that might mean (apart, that is, from my habit of reading scary books from behind the settee). I haven’t learned to speed read and I’m not sure that I want to. But I do at least read in the right order. Another friend of mine makes a point, if reading any kind of thriller, of checking out the end of the book, and of each chapter, well in advance so that her enjoyment of the read can’t be damaged by worrying about what might happen. She already knows. She is also a supportive follower of this blog which means she will already by now have read what happens at the end, even though I haven’t yet written it.

Can I lighten the mood a little here and finish with a vague and entirely meaningless kind of top ten? Just some stuff that I’ve enjoyed, in no particular order. No need to mock, I don’t care. I’ll probably have a different list next week. I’d be interested to hear yours.

  • Anything by Lynne Truss
  • Cold Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbons)
  • Anything by Tim Moore, almost entirely travel books
  • Jetlag travel guides: Molvania (a Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry); Phaic Tan (Sunstroke on a Shoestring); San Sombrero (a Land of Carnivals, Cocktails and Coups)
  • Harry Potter: all of them
  • Way too much crime stuff eg the Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson
  • The Onion (“America’s Finest News Source”) and its spin-offs
  • Loads of other travel stuff like the Lonely Planet guides, Pete McCarthy (The Road to McCarthy; McCarthy’s Bar) and anything by Jan Morris
  • The Shipping News (Annie Proulx)
  • Sharp Objects; Dark Places; Gone Girl (all Gillian Flynn)
  • Piles and piles of history stuff. You name it.

So that’s eleven? Get over it. It’s my blog.


I asked Mrs. Blog to nominate her ten. Here they are:

  • 50 Shades of Tartan
  • Veterinary Medicine for Dummies
  • Marks and Spencer Store Locator (Global Edition)
  • Anyone But England (Andy Murray)
  • Map Reading My Way
  • Marks and Spencer Guide to Refunds
  • Awa’ and Bile yer Heid, and Other Scottish Terms of Endearment
  • The Optimisation of Quantum Theory: Towards a Systematic and Regressive Median Analysis of Criteria Based Entropy. A Beginner’s Guide
  • Calling All Kittens
  • A Housewife’s Guide to the Offside Rule (Vols. 1 to 4)

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At the end of the day, as I haven’t quite got round to saying to Mrs. Blog, a woman is just a woman, but a book is a good read…








6 thoughts on “Better Read than Dead

  1. Might be best to keep that last bit of insight to yourself as I suspect that Mrs. Blog may not take too kindly to being referred to as “just a woman”. Ever helpfully yours, sherylbooks.

  2. Richard Partridge says:

    Well Mr Blog…..I understand your sentiments…..I had coffee this morning in our new Waterstones, gazing at shelves of enticing books I will never buy, let alone read…….but it is uplifting, makes you feel civilized, and is not Costa…..

    So I resolved not to use Amazon, but equally not to forsake Bags of Books for the ever growing youngest generation….B of B are the true local independent shop and very helpful to those of us who have not moved on from Hungry Catepillars and BFGs…..

    Cheers – Richard

    • Richard, I’m glad it’s not just me! I’ve been in the new shop several times in its first week and am buying books far faster than I’ll ever read them. I may need therapy.

  3. i think i prefer secondhand books to new ones… more interesting smells… i read every inscription and marginal note, prize label, etc… intrigued by the people whose hands the book passed through before… and sometimes google their names… social history… of the books you listed, Cold Comfort Farm is one of my all-time favourites… “Harry Potter all of them” i totally agree with… i’m currently reading Casual Vacancy… she is just a very good novelist… and Annie Proulx Shipping News is another recently-added favourite… 🙂

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