Anatomy of a Secondhand Bookshop Display

Secondhand bookshop display of biography titles arranged in pairs that are designed to grab customer interest.

Secondhand bookshop display of biography titles arranged in pairs that are designed to grab customer interest. Click for detail, or see below.

I doubt that many people think much about how books are arranged into a display. I lose sleep over it. This here is an in-store display that I set up today from our biography section. I like to arrange combinations that I call ‘doubling’ (no relation to the literary city in Ireland). The idea is to grab customers’ interest with book pairings so that they can make connections between them as pairs, the neighbours to those pairs, and within the whole collection of them. Ideally, even if one or more title are not of interest, the set will promote interest in the section they come from.

The thrust of the arrangement in a pair of books is their respective relationships with their subject matter. The titles may carry the meaning to the pairing, for example. Or there may be something interesting about which authors sit side by side. And this may be coupled with other elements such as the title, or perhaps the way that the knowledge at the time of publication is subverted by what we now know subsequently – these are, after all, secondhand, so their chronology and arrival can produce arbitrary and surprising combinations. Here then are the components to this display:

IMG_20141007_124122

The mildness to the Appletons seemed both jarring and harmonious next to the Kray twins. I deliberately led them onto Tony Blair to their bottom right. The book that Blair is paired with seemed to suggest this to me.

This is at about eye level for tall people. The way that Short fell out with Blair over the Iraq war fitted well with the messianic image he had at the time of his autobiography.  Perhaps they should have been swapped left to right though?

This is at about eye level for tall people. The way that Short fell out with Blair over the Iraq war fitted well with the messianic image he had at the time of his autobiography. Perhaps they should have been swapped left to right though?

The people's princess was part of the Blair era (or, as some readers would say, vice versa). There was an option on a book for Diana's personal affairs on the right. I thought that something more in her favour gave a better balance instead.

These are at eye level for most people. The people’s princess was part of the Blair era (or, as some readers would say, vice versa). There was an option on a book for Diana’s personal affairs on the right. I thought that something more in her favour gave a better balance instead.

I can't help but think of Stephen Fry as both a national treasure – i.e. popular(ish), highly respected, and seemingly harmless – yet at the same time an actor, someone with masks. Is his frequent autobiographical output less about him or more about a public obsession with personae, even when from the same person?

I can’t help but think of Stephen Fry as both a national treasure – i.e. popular(ish), highly respected, and seemingly harmless – yet at the same time an actor, someone with masks. Is his frequent autobiographical output less about him or more about a public obsession with personae, even when from the same person?

Already a couple of people have commented on these two. I shall say nothing to spoil the obviously multifarious readings possible here. Note though the title that the Pankhursts lead into on their bottom right.

Another mask at the ball, and a group of women who wanted to show something behind appearances and customs. Already a couple of people have commented on this pairing. I shall say nothing to spoil the obviously multifarious readings possible here. Note the title that The Pankhursts leads into on the bottom right …

This is lower on the display because, realistically, fewer customers will be aware of or interested in Oswald Mosley, and are less likely to see the connection. I quite like how sternly he eyes Mandela, while Mandela himself – as probably originally decided by his publisher – is shown above it all, looking to possibilities beyond himself.

This is lower on the display because, realistically, fewer customers will be aware of or interested in Oswald Mosley, and are less likely to see the connection. I quite like how sternly he eyes Mandela, while Mandela himself – as probably originally decided by his publisher – is shown above it all, looking to possibilities beyond himself.

Selling Robert Service's biographies of Lenin and Trotsky is of minority interest, so I put them as a lead-on from the sublime of Mandela and Mosley to the ridiculous of ...

Selling Robert Service’s biographies of Lenin and Trotsky is of minority interest, so I put them as a lead-on from the sublime of Mandela and Mosley to the ridiculous of …

David Beckham, captured in photographs more than words, and of course, Coleen, a WAG whose book is clearly either very popular, or was an unwanted gift last Christmas. People in or connected with Premiership football are clearly very marketable. What surprises me is that the publishers seem to give a free rein to how they want to present themselves. I can't help but flick through some of their books and suspect that they could come out as much more three-dimensional people if a biographer were given the free rein to document their lives.

Neither Trotskyite nor Leninist, here is a very red David Beckham, and with someone who arguably took football celebrity branding from the athletes to their spouses (see Jordan and the Pankhursts above). Coleen is a WAG whose book is clearly very popular. On the other hand, does her book’s popularity (and that of many celebrities) reflect on the publishing machine’s success in marketing simple choices in gifts that go unread and then get given away to charity bookshops? Either way, people in or connected with Premiership football are clearly marketable enough to outsell prominent Marxist revisionists. What surprises me is that the publishers seem to give a free rein to how public figures want to present themselves. I can’t help but flick through some of their books and suspect that they could come out as much more three-dimensional people if inquisitive and intelligent biographers were given free rein to document their lives.

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5 Responses to Anatomy of a Secondhand Bookshop Display

  1. ractrose says:

    I like the conventions in book design: the way people vamp the camera in their cover photos, or back cover photos, if the picture is of the author. Lurid touches of red, pulsating graphics. I don’t know if that kind of thing stimulates the sub-conscious.

    Like

    • Jeff says:

      Your comment reminds me of this from the theatre director Jonathan Miller’s 1999 book, Nowhere In Particular:
      ‘While being photographed I am asked to turn my head away but to keep my eyes looking towards the camera. This sidelong glance is very popular with modern photographers, but you can see the same thing in many paintings. It undoubtedly has a peculiar vitality – it seems to imply that the glance has just alighted and that the subject has merely spared the look whilst otherwise engaged.’
      Are you referring to the subjects of biographies, the people who present them, or some relationship between them / social structure around them?

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  3. LClark says:

    I see what you did there.
    And now I need to know who Stephen Fry is.

    Like

    • Jeff says:

      He’s a comedian, novelist, and best known now for hosting a comedy quiz called QI. He was part of a 1980s movement in comedy called ‘alternative comedy’ that became the unofficial opposition to the then Conservative government (the official opposition, the Labour Party, being rather ineffective). That cohort of comedians, largely from Cambridge University, reacted both to Thatcherite politics and comedians from the 1970s whose material stereotyped minority groups. I’ve read a few of his early books. Enjoyed the autobiographical The Liar, found The Hippopotamus didactic, and rekindled an adult interest in books after reading Paperweight in the 1990s. Mrs Fry is a fictional wife (Fry is actually gay). The character was invented by a Tweeter who is allegedly someone else. More here:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Fry
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mrs_Stephen_Fry

      Liked by 1 person

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