Column One: With best wishes from Doris, Salman and Nick

JOHN LE CARRE couldn't make it, but Doris Lessing put in a rare appearance. Nick Hornby didn't show, but Salman Rushdie was there, although unannounced in the preview notices. Of J G Ballard there was no sign, but Kazuo Ishiguro stayed for lunch. Despite a handful of no-shows, the cream of British writers met their public in a London bookshop yesterday - all in the name of marketing.

Never before has such a gang of fiction-writing luminaries been crammed into a single room for a mass signing. Antonia (A S) Byatt signed copies of Possession only feet from her sister, Margaret Drabble. Sebastian Faulks craned over a hyperventilating American fan, to inscribe his name in her Birdsong, while Colin Dexter, who today publishes the last-ever Inspector Morse book, beamed at his adoring readers.

The location was Waterstone's, Piccadilly, the newest and largest bookshop in Europe, where bookselling reaches its apogee. People suspicious of the modern tendency to flog books like discounted root vegetables would have had their fears confirmed. There are no books in the window, except fake ones on the heads of mannequins. "We wanted to stress," said Louis Wahl, the marketing director, "that we're doing a lot more than selling books". Like selling the book-as-fashion-accessory, the novel-as-gift- item, the buy-two-classics-get- one-free-bargain, the juice bar, the conversation module....

Salman Rushdie emerged from a television interview muttering, "I've just done a five-minute commercial for Waterstone's, and all I've been given is one glass of champagne." Michael Holroyd, the biographer of Shaw and Strachey, remarked, "We may be at the birth of something new in bookselling, but there's a subtle difference between buying books and actually reading them".

Before Joanna Trollope and Jilly Cooper unveiled a gold plaque to commemorate the huge shop, Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate, said he hoped that size wouldn't mean a limited shelf-life for books, a dependency on shifting bestsellers. "It's important that we can keep the rambling quality of our literary culture," he said.

Faint hope. Modern bookselling is about "signage" and niche marketing, about steering the customer into meta-book territory. And it's about books as "fun". "Why do they insist on saying that books should be fun?" asked Beryl Bainbridge. "Books should be serious. The more you insist on the elitist quality of books, the more people will run to them". The real attractions of the modern megastore are far simpler. "It's got a bar," she breathed, "where you can buy alcohol and smoke."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders