This train station vendor of books – I refuse to call them booksellers – is a queer creature. Essentially news agents, they provide bleary-eyed commuters with their daily paper and weekly NME, Grazia or Take A Break and weary travellers with limp, underfilled sandwiches only marginally less overpriced than those for sale on the trains.
The WH Smith branch in which I find myself this bright Thursday morning has a large book section taking up just under half of the small train station concourse store. Their stock-in-trade is bestsellers – books with NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE emblazoned over the Hollywood-perfect cover photo. Gaudy yellow easy-peel stickers advertise three for £10 deals on every other title. TV tie-ins and pocket-sized dictionaries dominate the reference section, travel guides and pop psychology the non-fiction section.
Children’s titles are consigned to a corner. The shelves are messy and confused. Books in on the adult shelves are organised by genre and then alphabetically, with at one copy of most titles displayed cover-on, the better to entice the casual purchaser. Not so in the children’s section. There is no sense that I can see in the arrangement; tall and thin science and maths workbooks sit beside vampire romance fiction for the 11-16 crowd, written hastily to ride on the coat tails Stephenie Meyer’s odious Twilight series. CBeebies tie-ins jostle beside My First Encyclopaedia and Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging (NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE). A Latin translation of A Bear Called Paddington, ordered by some over-eager assistant buyer, languishes dustily at the back.