The Little Book of... oh, why bother?

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The Independent Online

There is a most curious trial going on at the moment, in which a famous woman novelist is suing a bookshop for professional defamation. She claims that... well, perhaps it would be simpler just to bring you an extract from the case, from the moment when the accused bookshop manager took the stand.

There is a most curious trial going on at the moment, in which a famous woman novelist is suing a bookshop for professional defamation. She claims that... well, perhaps it would be simpler just to bring you an extract from the case, from the moment when the accused bookshop manager took the stand.

Counsel: Your name is Christian Standforth?

Standforth: I am afraid it is.

Counsel: Why are you afraid it is?

Standforth: Because there has been a lot of pressure on me to change my first name to something less single-faith.

Counsel: Do you honestly mean to tell us that the name "Christian" is not multicultural enough for some people?

Standforth: Apparently.

Counsel: I find that extraordinary.

Standforth: Perhaps it is just as well I was not christened "Jesus".

Counsel: Does anyone get called "Jesus"?

Standforth: Oh, yes. It is a very common name in Latin Catholic countries.

Judge: Excuse me, Mr Glancey, but has this got anything to do with the case?

Counsel: No, my Lord. But we barristers seldom get to meet real people, and we must take advantage of these human exchanges of information when we can.

Judge: Not in my court room, you don't.

Counsel: Very well, my Lord. Now, Mr Standforth, you are manager of a large branch of Arbour Book Stores, are you not?

Standforth: I am.

Counsel: It is your job to encourage people to read, and buy books?

Standforth: Well, to buy books, certainly.

Counsel: But why else would people buy books except to read?

Standforth: Oh, most books are bought to give away. People generally buy books as presents. There are some best-selling authors who, it is reckoned, have never been read at all. Their books have merely changed hands.

Counsel: Be that as it may, you are in the business of selling books. How is it then that my client, the well-known author Bryony Tallboys, came into your shop one day last year and found her books in a pile marked "No Need To Read"?

Standforth: I can easily explain that. We booksellers are under constant pressure to push certain books. Publishers pay us well to put books in the window, and falsely name them "Book of the Month". We also receive incentives to display other books prominently, to name certain books as "Chosen by the Staff", and so on. There is a constant emphasis on pushing these titles, which we ignore at our peril.

Counsel: Meaning, you will be fired if you don't?

Standforth: Precisely. But this must be counterproductive. The public are not fools. Well, they are fools, but not complete idiots. They must resent being shouted at the whole time to buy certain books, especially when they find that some of them aren't much good. Bookshops, however, never admit the well-known fact that some books are rubbish. We pretend that everything is worth selling. So I thought I might endear our branch to the public if I indicated that some books can safely be ignored, and I instituted a section called "No Need To Read".

Counsel: What kind of books did you put into it?

Standforth: Books which explained the universe. Politicians' memoirs. Hotel guides in which the hotels only got an entry if they paid for it. Books about defunct rock groups. Incomprehensible first novels. Silly cartoon books. Novels by fading woman writers. Any book called The Little Book of...

Counsel: What was the impact of this new section?

Standforth: People loved it. Some said it was a service they had been waiing for for years. Others bought books from the No Need To Read because they felt sorry for them. But everyone liked it.

Counsel: Except Miss Bryony Tallboys, who came in one day and found that her books were in this new section of unloved books.

Standforth: Oh, dreadful day!

I haven't the heart to bring you any more of this heart-breaking story today. Next week, perhaps.

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