Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Whatever Happened To Happenstance?

My personal gripe with the coming eBook revolution involves book acquisition. If I'm given unlimited and pure access to the unuverse of books, I will have no choice but to choose logically.

There will be no limits. There will be no bias. You will not be guided by geography or happenstance orthe texture of old books. All these distractions will be cast aside. Only you will have a say in the navigation across this perfect mathematical plane of possibility. Only you are responsible.

Bugger that.

I don't have a system strong enough to navigate the L-Space of all the books out there. What I like is serendipity, sale prices and forced hands. My reading is guided hugely by what books are presented to me and what mood I'm in at the time and how generous my wallet is feeling.  It's not ideal. Thank God it's not ideal.

If book-reading was evolution, and I sometimes think it is, serendipity would by the random mutations. Complete with ugly and disfunctional creatures. Complete with the only real way forward.

All this is here to justify: me buying 9 books last week.

Two bastards of serendipity, two demons of careless fate, came at me like velociraptors in a kitchen. Firstly, we got a pallet of return books in at work, from Harper. These books weren't the usual fare, lest you think they were. These were odds, ones and twos of strange, unusual titles. Literary titles, modern classics and shadowy first novels, a bunch of pre-Booker Hilary Mantel, some Patrick Gale, a hundred names you've never heard of, countless Ballard and a few Henry Miller.

The second bastard of serendipity was our annual Christmas 'bonus' of 50% off one transaction. Well, these books were £1.99 to start with, and 50% off that is incalcuably small. Literally, it will break your calculator if you try, so don't try. I bought:

mortification: writers' stories of their public shame
The Drought and Empire of the Sun by JG Ballard.
Darkmans by Nicola Barker.
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.
The Subject Steve by Sam Lipsyte. 
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson.
Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin and the World it Created.
The Qi Book of Advanced Banter.

All beautiful, decent-sized paperbacks. All for £9. Google makes that $14.

Now, I have £11 in my pocket right now, and I need approximately three weeks to read all these. Can I get three weeks at a knockdown price in a bargain shop? Or is it cheaper online?

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