by Thea Lenarduzzi
Cultural diagnosticians may have registered a micro-trend – “lucky-dip reading” – that blipped almost imperceptibly across their monitors sometime between 2010 and 2011. The general idea was that many readers had lost the love – the art – of browsing titles and subjects, resulting in a shrunken book pool from which to draw.
Online stores have compounded this with title/author/keyword search facilities that turn up exactly what you want, when you want it. (Auto-complete fields are particularly useful, or limiting, depending on your stance.)
So what can we do to prevent bibliographic myopathy? Readers of the TLS’s N.B. column will know that the “essential disarray” of second-hand and charity shops can be a fine tonic, with generally pleasurable side effects, as can be projects such as Book Swap, which operates in a similar way online. In the past, it has also been suggested that people leave books lying about in public places – on train platforms and park benches – for strangers to pick up and take home; they might then do likewise. (This is beautifully altruistic – the sort of thing someone might make a romcom about – but somewhat impracticable, considering the unpredictable weather.)
I imagine selecting the neighbourhood in which to browse may produce a filtrative effect similar to that of online search bars. I’m tempted to delve into the darkest recesses of the TLS office in search of obscurities to leave dotted about the streets; other editors could drop them off somewhere on their way home, or on holiday…. Helen Dunmore’s “Ice Cream” might turn up on a beach in Scarborough, a history of bagels in a café in San Francisco. Diplomatic relations could by strained if, say, “The Future is…China” were to appear in Delhi, or “India Rising” in Shanghai – but then there might be a copy of “A Cultural Approach to Interpersonal Communication” just a few park benches along.