Friday, 26 November 2010

On the shelf

“Oh, here we go again,” muttered the Stephen King bestseller as another book was slid into position. Its neighbour, a rather battered anthology of short stories, flexed its spine and tutted disapprovingly.

“Hmm, that’s the latest Patricia Cornwell she got last week. Un-put-down-able, by all accounts.”

“Each to their own. A little obvious, I would have thought, though.”

“I can hear you both, you know,” said the newer novel. “How about some courtesy for a newcomer? I’ve just been read for the first time and I’m exhausted.”

“My apologies, madam,” purred the anthology. “I remember my first time as if it was yesterday. It was a pleasure. It is, after all, what we books are for, isn’t it?”

The other inhabitants of the bookcase rippled approvingly. There was some harrumphing from the hardcovers on the lower shelves.

“Oh, pay no attention to those,” said the Stephen King. “The hardbacks are blowhards. They need to get the dust off their jackets from time to time.”

“I heard that,” boomed an atlas, its voice redolent of distant lands. “At least I know my place.”

“Sorry, old chap. I didn’t mean you.”

The Patricia Cornwell settled back into position. “It was quite something, being read. Passing on all those words to my reader, you know, dialogue, plot, location and characters. I have a very good ending, apparently. It was thrilling. I suppose I’ll get used to this, yes?”

“Well,” started an autobiography from the shelf below, “best not to be too forward-thinking, eh?”

“What do you mean? I’m only just out of the best-seller list. I have so much to give!”

The other books shuffled nervously. The embarrassed silence was broken by the anthology.

“You see, most books don’t tend to get a repeat reading. Especially not the, um, populist titles, you see.”

“It’s easy for you to say that,” the Stephen King interrupted. “At least you get read again and again.”

“Yes, but look at what it’s done to me! My cover’s all battered and several of my pages are all bent at the corner. I do wish more people would use bookmarks.”

At the mention of the word there was an outpouring of satisfied noises from across the shelf.

“Ooh I do like a reader who knows how to use a bookmark...”

“I wish more of them did,” said the anthology. “But at least I haven’t had one of those folding-type readers.”

“Folding-type?” asked the Cornwell.

“Yes, the ones that open you all the way round when reading. It’s not nice. See that Rowling over there? Turns out its reader didn’t want others in the office knowing he was reading Harry Potter, so he folded him all the way, front cover to back cover. His spine’s a right old mess.”

“Ooh, sounds awful,” replied the Cornwell. “I don’t like the sound of that at all.”

“Could be worse. I heard that there are some people who even burn books.”
There was a frightened muttering from the rest of the volumes.

“Steady on,” said a Penguin Classic at the end of the shelf, “you know full well that’s one of those stories they tell to young pamphlets. It’s just a fairy tale.”

“Look at my cover,” said the anthology sharply. “See those words, ‘Brothers Grimm’? I think I know a fairy tale when I see one.”

“But I will get read again, won’t I?” the Cornwell asked, a note of sadness detectable through its gold block-lettered cover.

“Difficult to say, my dear. Of course, you might get shared to your reader’s friends and family.” He brightened up. “You might get to go on holiday with someone. Although the sand does tend to get everywhere.”

“Think yourself lucky,” muttered a Hemingway, “I got bought by someone trying to impress a girl. He read my first chapter. He got bored. He gave up. I could use a drink.”

“Don’t worry too much,” said the King. “We all perform a role. Some of us are there to make people think. Others make them laugh, or cry. I most like to give my readers a fright, to be honest. And in between, we sit here on the shelf. We all have stories to tell. It’s what we’re best at, after all.”

“Here we go again,” said the anthology as a young hand reached up and pulled down a weary-looking copy of Lord of the Rings. “Good luck, old thing!”

“Huh,” came a fading voice from the thick volume. “If I get taken halfway I’ll be lucky. See you next week when he gets bored again and puts the DVD on.”

“It’s not a glamorous existence on the shelf,” reflected the anthology. “But you get used to it after a while.”

And the new novel settled back once more. It didn’t know when it would tell its story again. But it knew with certainty that the time would arise once more. Until then, the sleep of closed covers, to dream of chapters unread and plotlines undiscovered.

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