The pain of seeing favourite books remaindered

20 July, 2010

One often reads about the small pleasures in life, and how important they are in getting us through the day.  There is even a popular website devoted to this theme, although I have forgotten the link.

In line with my generally misanthropic outlook on life, I think there should equally be a website devoted to those small but disproportionately painful occurrences that happen to us all on a regular basis.

Near the top of my personal list would be the pain of browsing in a bookshop and finding that a book of which one is particularly fond has been remaindered, and lies unloved  in a pile of less worthy books. 

This first struck me years ago when, after proselytizing madly to my friends about the merits of “The Debt to Pleasure” by John Lanchester, I saw a pile of them for sale in Hodges Figgis at a fraction of the cover price.

But the worst experience of this nature happened recently when I saw Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time by Clive James on sale at something like €4.99 in the same shop. The pain arose not from the fact that I had paid full price for this wonderful 896-page tome (although I had),  but because I had derived so much pleasure from reading the book, because I regarded it as part of my cultural CV, and because I felt everybody with a functioning brain and even a passing interest in 20th century culture and history should share my discovery.

I will have to learn to live with this particular form of disappointment, as I suspect that few books will escape this fate in the future.  After all, one expects new DVD film releases to fall sharply in price as time passes and their novelty value wears off.  But somehow books seem different.  This isn’t necessarily logical, but they do exert an attraction for book-lovers that goes beyond pure form and content.  Which explains why seeing a great book remaindered is like discovering a former lover who has fallen on hard times and is working as a hooker.


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