Harry Spare release: I won't be buying Prince Harry's memoir, but at least bookshops will get a boost - Gaby Soutar
All the juiciest bits have already appeared in the press and the rest of it is sure to come out in odds and sods over coming weeks.
I’ll string it together with conjunctions in my head. It is amazing, though, how many copies have been sold.
On Tuesday, its first day of publication by Penguin Random House, they say Spare – Prince Harry’s memoir – reached 400,000 sales in the UK. That makes it the fastest selling non-fiction book of all time.
Harry Potter was the last to fly like that.
Of course, those figures cover e-books and audio formats too. But the sales of a physical hardback must be a boon for bookshops, when it seems as though they were teetering on the edge of obsolescence not that long ago.
Spare might be the equivalent of Top Gun Maverick arriving in time to save cinemas.
Last week, figures were also released from the Booksellers Association. Their membership has increased to 1,072 independent bookshops at the end of last year, up from 1,027 in 2021.
That might not seem like a big jump, but it’s certainly noticeable. In Edinburgh, there’s now a boutique-y one in every neighbourhood. These include The Portobello Bookshop, Golden Hare, Rare Bird, The Edinburgh Bookshop and Argonaut Books.
I probably don’t spend as much money there as I should, but I do feel their gravitational pull. I guess they are churches, for the non-religious, who want to run their fingers along spines as if they were a chiropractor.
However, I’m temporarily just looking, not buying. We’ve had a massive paperback cull in my flat, since the shelves of our Edinburgh press were bowing.
We charity-shopped hundreds of books, most of which were arty and intellectual tomes. They were the ones that my ego forced me to buy before I had fully accepted that I’m not very bright.
Some of them were the opposite of dog-eared. After sitting in a cupboard for years, these untouched books had contracted a furry green growth between the pages.
I Googled that in a panic, in case we needed to get the hazmat suits on.
Apparently, a milder discolouration, with rusty coloured dots on pages, is called foxing and isn’t too serious. This was something nastier, like a literary venereal disease.
If anything happens to me in the coming months, tell them to put “I told them it was book mould” on my gravestone.
It’s for this reason that I have a self imposed ban on shopping for any more. I can still hang out though.
After all, visiting modern bookshops is considered a lifestyle experience. It’s the opposite of getting a rectangular brown box through the door from Amazon.
You’re encouraged to browse, linger, ask questions, and come to talks, clubs and events.
Topping & Company, which started out in Bath and Ely, but has branches in Edinburgh and St Andrews, even serves their customers gratis cups of tea. I’m hoping that they’ll soon extend to cake.
Those shops are a bit too fresh for me though. I prefer a Black Books-esque second-hand purveyor, like Caledonia Books on Glasgow’s Great Western Road or Armchair Books in the Scottish capital’s Grassmarket. It’s been there for aeons and I even remember back to when they had a resident collie called Struan.
I think they still have a faded picture of him on their pinboard.
Whether a new or old venue, it always feels like a treat to visit one.
It’s probably Proustian. When I was small, our dad would take us to Waterstones, back when it was on Edinburgh’s George Street, once every few months.
He wasn’t really into buying us treats and mum was always the one to dole out pocket money. However, books, presumably for our intellectual betterment, though he didn’t really police our purchases, were a rare exception.
We’d go in the evening, on a school night – even more exciting – and he’d peruse classic fiction, while we dashed around, speed-reading blurbs, desperate to find something before we were herded back to the car.
On one visit, Kenneth Williams was in the premises, doing some sort of book signing.
Perhaps it was for his autobiography, Just Williams, which came out in 1985, though I don’t remember much about that event. Dad queued up to meet him, as did my sister, then aged eight-ish.
He told her that her eyes were “as blue as the Mediterranean” and his voice was pure Willo the Wisp to us (probably Carry On to dad).
There was another memorable bookshop trip. When I was in my early hormonal years, I remember the hot sweat of trying to pass a Judy Blume book, Forever, under his nose.
I’d already finished all of this author’s others, including Are You There God, It's Me Margaret, Superfudge and Blubber, and loved them all.
This was way before the rise of YAF (Young Adult Fiction) and Forever was a slightly more mature read, about a teenage relationship.
This had a bit of – shriek – sex in it. All the other girls at school had motored through the read.
Thankfully, after I handed it to him, dad didn’t even look at the cover, and, even though I was black affrontit, I felt such triumph to get it past the censor.
It’s nice to be an adult and be able to buy whatever books you want. Maybe not Spare though.
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