24 January 2009

Le Sac du Quartier

Dans ce quartier-ci il est bon d'acheter, de temps en temps, un sac "du moment" pour encourager les autres.

At least, that is what Voltaire might have said if he had come to Marylebone in the noughties. The "it" bag here, though, doesn't cost £500; in fact, it's free with purchase at Daunt Books, one of my favourite bookshops in town (and also, conveniently, the closest to my flat). Instead of giving away plastic or paper bags to customers, they provide them with one of the two styles of tote bag--the kind you would pay about £3 in a supermarket and £10 in Paul Smith--either a flat, cream tote with a green line drawing of the shop on the front, or a bigger, sturdier green canvas version. Both varieties adorn the arms of a great number of people, both in the quartier and beyond.

I have a tote bag with a diagram of the Manhattan neighbourhoods etched on it, which I bought for about $15 in New York and I keep it in my handbag at all times so that impromptu trips to Selfridges, the South Bank book market or Waitrose aren't ever a problem. However, I wanted a new tote and I wanted a Daunt one in particular. I went into the store last week and asked if they sold the totes. "No," sez the friendly assistant, "we normally give them away if you buy lots of books."

"OK, well, do you have the new Jay McInerney novel then?" I ask.

"No, we're sold out."

"Then can I buy a tote from you? I don't really want any other books right now" I had also tried this trick to acquire a display model of a Nespresso pod carrier in Selfridges but with no luck.

"Sorry, afraid not," she said. Grr. Luckily, I met Dad in Daunt on Wednesday and Dad cannot go into a bookshop without buying at least 15 books (especially prior to a New York trip when he needed to top up his travel books collection as clearly, two shelves of NYC reading matter isn't nearly enough) and, sure enough, he was carrying an armful of tomes and, sure enough, we were given a tote, which I now carry around with me.

I really ought to support Daunt more but I buy almost all of my books second hand, the only exception being when I read a book's blurb and have to read it right away and so buy it on impulse, no matter what the price. Besides, I prefer the feel of second-hand books. I like the worn and battered look and I like the thought of the book itself having had its own history. That said, if money were no object, I probably would just go to Daunt and buy most of my books there, simply because it is such a pleasant place to shop and the people who work there are friendly, helpful and really know their stuff.

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