Must one mingle with all these bookish types?

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The Independent Online

Regular followers of this column will, I hope, forgive me if I direct a few words today to a particular reader. She is, I understand, someone who turns to The Independent before any other newspaper, confident that she will not have to endure page after page of cringing, prurient claptrap concerning Mr and Mrs Windsor and the rest of the so-called "royal family".

Regular followers of this column will, I hope, forgive me if I direct a few words today to a particular reader. She is, I understand, someone who turns to The Independent before any other newspaper, confident that she will not have to endure page after page of cringing, prurient claptrap concerning Mr and Mrs Windsor and the rest of the so-called "royal family".

A very good day to you, Your Majesty. First of all, may I thank you for the kind invitation I have received through the good offices of the Master of the Royal Household. Between you and me, I was slightly taken aback to be asked to wear a "lounge suit" (who wrote this invitation? Prince Andrew?) but I shall, of course, be delighted to appear in my lounge suit at the palace next month.

According to the crib-sheet, this reception is to be part of "a day of engagements in London related to the British Book World". How your royal heart must have sunk at the prospect of spending an entire working day with bookish types. Oh dear, you will have said, must one? An equerry will have spoken to you gently about Dick Francis, reminded you what JK Rowling has done for British exports. Recognising that even monarchs must occasionally put up with a bad day at the office, you graciously agreed.

It occurs to me that you may be uncertain as to what to expect to find in that alien territory, the British Book World. You might, for example, be concerned that you will be surrounded by fearfully well-read people, whereas you are bored by anything with more words than the latest issue of Horse and Hound.

Worry not, Your Majesty! While a few junior types might enter publishing full of literary enthusiasm, they soon discover a basic truth about their chosen profession: the less you read, the higher you are likely to climb. In fact, fearful that a vestigial enthusiasm for books might live on within its senior executives, the British Book World has taken to recruiting its top managers from unpolluted sources - the City, the British School of Motoring, some of the more aggressively-run charities.

Nor is there any need for Your Majesty to feel out of your depth among booksellers. The day of the dusty, myopic, scholarly bibliophile died several years ago.

Today most booksellers have only one thing in common - they are on their way somewhere else. Some want to be publishers, or sing in a band, or become account executives for advertising agencies. Most are trying to write novels: the discontented expression you will note on their faces is caused by the fact that few reach further than Chapter Three.

Amid all this movement and restlessness, you will be relieved to hear that two groups within the British Book World are utterly at ease with themselves and their work. Literary agents are not the weaselly, below-stairs types you might have imagined but are urbane, money-minded entrepreneurs, their thoughts forever on the next project. When they talk about a book "working", by the way, remember that they are not referring in any way to its content but merely to how much money it has made.

Then there are the librarians, a glorious, life-loving and often surprisingly flighty bunch of individuals. Unlike virtually everyone else at the reception, they not only enjoy reading books but are far too sensible to want to write one themselves.

Which brings us to the last link in the food chain, the authors. There is no need for these people to detain you for too long - here, as elsewhere in the British Book World, they are essentially present to make up the numbers.

I greatly look forward to our evening together. Oh, and at the end of it all, it might be worth palace staff checking the silverware as the guests are leaving.

terblacker@aol.com

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