When is a local bookshop not a local bookshop? When it has the hide to call itself a local bookshop.
The not-so-local bookshop is next door to the local green grocer and opposite the not-local-at-all supermarket. I step inside carrying Jacaranda Avenue, my little self-published book of non-fiction.
The not-so-local bookshop sells good books cheap. From my limited knowledge of publishing and the book industry, I’m pretty sure the authors don’t get any royalties from sales here. Remaindered stock.
But the not-so-local bookshop doesn’t look cheap. Once a tired old shoe shop (that had been selling footwear for more than a century, apparently), it is now a fresh and shiney place. Polished floorboards. White walls. Sturdy shelving. If you like standing amongst attractive books, browsing covers, perusing blurbs and fingering papyrus, this shop can seem a stimulating place. Or, at the least, a nice spot to while away a few minutes after buying your fruit and vegetables.
The shop’s name is simple. Two words. Four syllables. The name of the suburb and then the word ‘books’. Simple. Clear. And the shop has a motto, ‘your local bookstore’, plus a logo, featuring a local landmark. Community notices on the window add to the façade.
I am holding a copy of my little book of non-fiction. Thirty contemporary stories previously published in newspaper supplements and magazines. Paying publications. Stories about raising my family in this suburb. Local stories about grief and happiness, about love and resilience, abut swimming, about cycling.
I know the shop won’t stock the book, that it won’t take a handful of copies on commission, but you’ve got to try in this caper. No good having a box of books under your desk, at your feet every morning and every night.
And, besides, the shop assistant is pretty. And young. With long dark hair, tied back. And smiling eyes. A hint of an accent. English? New Zealand?
A pretty woman surrounded by good-looking books. What’s a bloke, a bloke who writes a bit, supposed to do?
I know she’ll say No but we dance a little. I say, Here’s a local book, it might interest customers. She smiles and looks at the cover and says she will have to consult head office. (The not-so-local bookshop is part of a small not-so-local chain.) I say, Okay, read some of the stories if you wish. Take your time. She says she’ll be in touch.
A few weeks later the shop assistant forwards an email from head office decreeing, not surprisingly, that my little book doesn’t fit the business’s marketing strategy. The young woman adds an apologetic comment, saying she liked the stories and would have liked to have stocked the book.
I pop in and thank her for going into bat for me. She offers to return her copy of my book but I find the words to leave it behind.
Mine is not the only local book that’s not in the not-so-local bookshop. There isn’t the book about local pubs. There isn’t the book about local tugs. There isn’t the book by the 90 year old writer, about growing up here way back when. There isn’t the collection of yarns gleaned from very old local newspapers. There isn’t anything for residents or tourists to learn about this suburb.
A writer gets used to knockbacks. It comes with the territory. But a knockback from a pretty young dark-haired woman is easier to take even though, cycling home, you want to shout obscenities at head office, wherever it may be, and at its duplicitous branding.
Local bookstore? Pig’s arse.
Sour grapes? You bet.
Postscript. This slightly indulgent story was written two years ago. Late last year the green grocer next to the bookshop closed due to skyrocketing rents. Just last week the bookshop closed too. It’s an empty bookshop now, though the shingle still hangs near the doorway. There is a real local bookshop, called Book and Paper, just around the corner.