Between the Covers 18/112012

Your weekly guide to what's really going on inside the world of books

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The Independent Culture

Between the Covers would like to reach out in sympathy to Margaret Hodge MP, the chair of the Public Accounts Committee and, as such, the woman assigned the distasteful role last week of trying to get some answers out of Amazon. Believe us, Mrs Hodge, we know how you feel! We've been trying since August; you had only one afternoon and you found that frustrating enough. Can you imagine how exasperated we are?

After three hours grilling executives from Amazon, Google and Starbucks, Hodge concluded that the companies are "in different ways, siphoning the profits out of the UK to low-tax jurisdictions". She called their activities not illegal but "immoral". She was so disappointed by the obfuscation and ignorance of Andrew Cecil, Amazon's public policy director, that she has demanded that Amazon send a grown-up to Parliament next time to answer properly for the company. "Your entire activity is here," she told Cecil, "yet you pay no tax here and that really riles us."


Ms Hodge has asked consumers to boycott Amazon. Which seems like a sensible idea. Fortunately, it is very easy to buy books elsewhere – because of gorgeous things known as bookshops. Remember them? A brief straw poll of friends suggests Regency Bookshop in Surbiton, Surrey ("Most things take only 24 hours to order, so if we don't have it, we can get it"), a childhood favourite of one IoS reader; The Yellow-Lighted Bookshops in Gloucestershire, praised for their keen and friendly staff who actually – get this – answer questions (take note, Amazon); The Petersfield Bookshop, whose unique owner, Mr John Anthony Portsmouth Football Club Westwood, is as keen on reading as he is on football; Arnolfini Books in Bristol; City Books in Hove; My Back Pages in Balham (which once nearly closed down, but reopened with a warning that you have to use a shop if you really want it to survive); and Scarthin Books in Cromford, Derbyshire, which has "lots of cubbyhole rooms and fab cheese scones". When was the last time you got a fab cheese scone from Amazon, eh? No, thought not.


For customers who really can't face going out of the house and talking to a human, or who live on remote islands, online retailers include Waterstones (which offers free delivery) and Foyles, as well as and And enables shoppers to find the cheapest online copy of any book, and you'd be surprised – it's often not Amazon. As Margaret Hodge and Between the Covers have discovered, Amazon really could not care less about what IoS readers, UK taxpayers and their customers think of their tactics. So, save Britain's economy and have a happy Christmas: support your local, tax-paying bookshop.


In the world of book reviewing, the end of November means that it's practically Christmas (stand by for our books of the year recommendations which start on 2 December), so how about a literary joke? Harold Pinter's cat walks into a bar. The barman says: "Why the long paws?"