On Books on Shelves in Pubs

250-Beautiful-FlowersMany years ago I was in a pub with some flatmates when one of their friends pulled a book from the nearby shelf and started to read aloud from it. The book was by Baden-Powell, that scoutmaster extraordinaire, and we were regaled with advice on how boys aught to be thoroughly exercised so as to not have any surplus energy for exploring themselves with their hands. Suffice to say that a few beers were sprayed in laughter. This episode sometimes comes to mind whenever I’m near a bookshelf in a pub. I get caught between rolling my eyes at the theming that pubs have undergone in the last few decades, and an automatic reflex to tilt my head and browse the titles. On occasion I’ll pull something off (no Baden-Powell pun intended) to examine.

What I find myself doing these days, on account of being a secondhand seller, is assessing books. In this case of the book pictured here, some post-pub research established that my guess at its price and year of publication (the latter of which was missing) was close. While perusing it and another volume with my drinking companion, I noticed somebody else pulling books to have a look. Is this practice more commonplace that one might expect? I have to say that I might not have noticed somebody else doing it were it not for doing it myself.

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7 Responses to On Books on Shelves in Pubs

  1. Lucy says:

    Meeee! I am sure some of them just pick them up in a box at a car boot, as long as they are cloth bound and look old, they’ll so, hence how I found a novel printed in French in a Wetherspoons, next to a tarnished, dented bugle and string-less violin. And once I found a block of books that weren’t real, just hollow, printed cardboard spines. At least imitation novel video cassette cases had a purpose.

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    • Jeff says:

      What you’ll find will be mixed on account that it’s usually sold by the yard (or perhaps by the metre on the continent). A strange and unpredictable method of purchase. Perhaps there’s a game that can be played whereby the people at a table each have a concealed book from which they read, in turn, the next line in a story they construct. The winner is the last one to have not had their title guessed.

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  2. Letizia says:

    One of my favorite cafes in Paris used to have bookshelves full of books but I rarely saw people take any down. But there were some good ones there. I never knew if they were there for decoration (French books being quite good for decoration as they are almost always white, rarely colored, and therefore creating a pleasant monotone look) or for pleasure. I always pulled one down and never got an angry look so perhaps it was a dual purpose.

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    • Jeff says:

      > they are almost always white, rarely colored,

      I sometimes wonder about this. Do French designers begrudge the lack of work available from their home publishing trade? I know the lack of visuals reflects a national sensibility towards text (which is why so much French music is non-descript backdrop to Anglo-American ears), but I find the monotone monotonous and a bit joyless.
      I also wondered if you’d agree with recent French commentary that their publishing industry is frustrated at international indifference? Things have apparently moved on from the anti-novel (rather a pity to my mind – I’d sooner have seen more non-French publishers venture a few millimetres outside genre fiction). Do you read much that’s untranslated and contemporary?

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      • Letizia says:

        I quite like the monotonous look of French books. I read a lot of French contemporary poetry. Whether that’s because it’s on trend right now or because that’s what my family sends me from home (France), I can’t tell you. Now that I live in the US, it’s harder to get a sense of the literary scene there.

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  3. Sarah says:

    Oh my god, that is the best game ever! I can’t resist checking out the shelves of books in unlikely places whether it be pubs, or cafes, and yes, you find some incredibly random collections. That game has such fun potential I may have to find myself some friends and a local just to play it!

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  4. Ste J says:

    Wetherspoons has a bunch of books and whenever I ask if I can buy them they tell me they are just for show, they are treated to an incredulous followed by mildly contemptuous look which i hope sends a powerful message.

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