Wednesday, August 14, 2013

An addendum to Monday's book pricing post, or, Who knows what book buyers want?

Right after I wrote Monday's post about book pricing, I read Helen MacInnes's spy novel Above Suspicion (1941), recently reissued with a number of her other books by Titan. It's about as cozy and British as a spy novel gets: whereas Eric Ambler would take an innocent and thrust him into intrigue unexpectedly, MacInnes starts her story by having an old friend stop by the flat of an Oxford don and, over sherry, casually recruit him and his wife to go look into a suddenly leaky European spy network.

Right before the offer is made, the wife of the couple is wandering home and passes a bookshop:
[S]he halted at a bookseller's window. Richard's new book on English lyric poetry was well displayed. It was selling, too, which had been a pleasant surprise. (The bookseller had explained that away rather harshly: people were buying strange books now, it sort of soothed their minds.) She smiled to herself in the window at her totally unpoetic thoughts. A selling book would be a help towards another summer among the mountains.
Oh, for the days when a book on English lyric poetry might make a noticeable contribution towards an Alpine holiday!

And is it possible not to love the bookseller's befuddled honesty? As someone who spends far more of his time than he ought thinking about why people buy the books they buy, I can tell you it's not a science. "People are buying strange books now"? Right. Seems as good an answer as any.

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