any of Jen Campbell's "weird things people say in bookshops" posts over on "This is not the six word novel" (link at side) will know people do say and ask strange things. Sometimes they ask very strange things.
I was in the bookshop yesterday. It was Knitting Tuesday. I run a class on the last Tuesday in the month so I had an even better excuse than usual for being there.
As usual I had arrived a few minutes early. It is a good excuse to prowl along the shelves and make sure I know what is there. The type of stock has changed with the new owner. Was that what prompted the question I was asked? I do not know.
There was a customer near me, someone in her late forties or early fifties. She was looking at what might be called "middle-reader" novels. Eventually she put yet another one back on the shelf and said to me, "What's happened to all the good books?"
I asked her what she meant and she waved a hand at the shelves she had been looking at and said, "These books are for dessert. They are not for first course."
I must have looked disbelieving because she pulled one off the shelf again and said, "Look - this is part of a series. Any kid reading this knows what to expect. This is the new Enid Blyton."
She pulled two more off the shelves and made the same complaint.
I have to admit it was justified.
"It's what kids want to read. It's what sells," I told her.
"It's the easy way out," she told me in disgust. She put the books back and walked off.
I wish I had been able to help her.
I also have to admit that, with respect to the bookshop stock, she was almost right. Most of the books in the shop intended for middle and YA readers are "series" type books. The reader knows what to expect. Many of them are "the new Enid Blyton". They are written to a formula and by multiple authors. They sell or the shop would not stock them.
When I went looking for a birthday present for my godson I was looking for something along the lines of Morris Gleitzman. There was not one single one of his books on the shelves.
I asked the assistant in there at the time about this. She is someone I know well.
"We don't have anything like that any more," she told me. "We used to."
I know they did. The old owner knew books and the books trade extremely well. She spent a lot of time searching for what she felt was the right stock. The new owner does not have time for that. Buying series fiction in is easy. Marketing it is easy. It's a brand. If it is known it will sell. People will think it is good because they know the name.
Stand alone fiction is not a brand. It is much more difficult to market. I know all that. I know why these things are done.
I also sympathise with the woman who asked, "What's happened to all the good books?"
We need "first course" as well as "dessert".