Books in the Bookshop

Aren’t modern bookshops great? You can step into one on any high street in Britain and almost be guaranteed to find the section of the shop where the book you want should be, wonder to yourself how such an enormous chain of shops can so consistently fail to stock the book you want, and then leave. The average high street book shop can be a confusing place, what with all the different genres of literature available - some large shops stock in excess of three or four different types. So to help you identify and understand all these varied volumes, here’s a handy guide which you can cut out and keep, or just use as kindling when you set fire to a suspected paedophile’s house.

Is your Channel 4 comedy series a success? Yes? Then you’ll be wanting to milk it for all it’s worth before everyone forgets who you are and you end up eking out a living by appearing on nostalgic clip shows. One way for comedians to do this is to release a book of their show, which consists of material they rejected from the actual show because it wasn’t funny, along with text versions of all your favourite characters and sketches, which are exactly the same as in the programme except the pictures don’t move. The Comedy Book is almost never seen being sold at full price, and usually inhabits the cheapest shelf in your local discount book emporium, languishing there for months and waiting to be bought as a birthday present for a friend you don’t like.

Chick-lit is SO in right now, what with the second in the series of Bridget Jones films and the popularity of Sex & The City continuing after its cancellation. So, there’s never been a better time to jump on the bandwagon and aid the cause of sexual equality by writing yet another novel about some insecure and frumpy thirtysomething (let’s call her Bridget Clones) whose dreams are fulfilled when she’s “rescued” from her life of secretarial drudgery by some dashing and wealthy hunk - but not before two hundred pages’ worth of padding constructed from achingly postmodern social comedy and jokes about boys and makeup. Generally speaking, the writers of such literature think they’re feminists, but don’t seem to notice that by endlessly “modernising” Jane sodding Austen over and over again, they’re basically perpetuating the idea that women are useless emotional wrecks who can only gain confidence and social status through buying shoes and marrying into wealth. Chick-lit novels are easy to find, as their covers invariably depict a cosmopolitan-looking woman riding a scooter through a European capital and being eyed by one or more square-jawed charicature males, all of which is drawn in the style of the Pink frigging Panther. Wish-fulfilment for sad thirty year old women, actually read by thirteen year old girls.

Reading like an adolescent’s Dungeons & Dragons fan fiction (which it effectively is), Formulaic Fantasy Series is a complete mythological cycle taking place in a coherent alternate universe created by an author whose literary vision is so brilliant that it takes about 40 encyclopaedia-sized novels to cover it all. Lever open one of these books (you may require a crowbar, these things are heavy) and inside you’ll find just about every fantastical trope you got bored of years ago - Dragons, castles, kobold-infested dungeons, elves, pointy-hatted wizards, muscular barbarians in loincloths and suchlike. With a few notable exceptions, fantasy literature is all exactly the goddamn same, and any new ideas an author may have to contribute are buried under the sheer weight of clichéd plotlines, stupid character names and page-long overdescriptions of violence and the heroine’s physical attributes. Cover art will usually incorporate an Amazon warrior woman wearing ridiculously skimpy armour that only covers up her breasts and crotch (it is well known that these parts are the woman’s most vulnerable organs, not the heart or throat or anything like that), framed by a generic fantasy landscape containing one or more badly-textured CGI castles which the artist knocked up on Bryce 3d. Author obviously regards himself as a modern-day Tolkien.

At the opposite end of the gender-stereotyping scale from the adventures of Bridget Clones is the Boys’ Own realm of the SAS Adventure. Conventionally they are written by men who claim to have been in the SAS, and choose to hide their identities, claiming that to reveal their faces would expose them to the stooges of all the evil dictators they singlehandedly overthrew during their colourful career as a top-secret ninja/assassin/fighter pilot/spy/sniper/commando/postman. The plot will usually revolve around some such supersoldier (who represents the author’s somewhat inflated idea of himself) becoming embroiled in some international terrorist conspiracy to detonate a nuclear bomb inside the Queen’s teapot. Along the way there’ll be lots of needlessly graphic violence and loving, nigh-pornographic descriptions of military hardware, all spawned from the author’s adolescent obsession with killing. Readership consists of paranoid military enthusiasts with concealed knives and very dull-looking businessmen on the train. Author’s actual military background consists of a brief, unhappy stint in the Boy Scouts.

In a dystopian near-future ruled over by giant omnipresent corporations, one maverick computer hacker challenges the system. Yeah, people really do still write books like this. The Cyberpunk genre should have died the moment the Internet became widely available and people realised that all it actually changed about society is that it helped them call eachother gay more efficiently, but writers still crank out hundreds of identical Cyberpunk novels. And people still lap them up, just like Formulaic Fantasy Series, because people like reading the same story over and over again but with the words slightly rearranged. My plea to the writers of these wastes-of-trees is STOP PRETENDING YOU’RE WILLIAM GIBSON, because you’re not and even he’s realised it’s no longer the 1980s and moved on to fresher literary pastures. So follow his lead and stop writing about cybernetically enhanced people who walk around in trench coats and take themselves too seriously. If you’re interested in those kinds of characters, just visit Birmingham.

Have you read it yet? Oh, you absolutely must! It’s the latest thing! At some early stage in this book’s gestation, the writer signed some infernal document in their own blood, The Powers That Be thereby declared that it would become a record-breaking bestseller, and that everyone would spend their free time reading it and talking about it. The Latest Thing can belong to any genre - it doesn’t matter whether it’s about merciless criminals stabbing eachother in the head or a psychic milkman, it’ll be snapped up by anyone and everyone, because everyone else is doing it and they want to fit in. For several months the book will be all over the media, it will dominate the droning dinner party conversations of eminently shootable middle-class pseuds, it will silence all rational criticism with the sheer magnitude of its blanket marketing power. You may dislike it, you may openly rubbish it as terrible derivative old toss, but it won’t make any difference. Everyone has already been assimilated. You are alone in your opinion, your attempts to escape The Latest Thing are feeble. You may as well just hide in an old fridge for three months until everyone’s forgotten about it, at which time The Next Thing will appear. Still, at least it’s a book and not a sodding reality TV show.

Possibly the most irritating thing since genital herpes, the Harry Potter books are the bastard offspring of the Fantasy Series and The Latest Thing. Ostensibly intended for children, the franchise actually owes its success to middle-aged adults who think it’s the best goddamned book they’ve ever read, even though they’re more than old enough to know that it’s exactly the same as The Worst Witch. This blindness extends to the broadcasters who see fit to give over a significant chunk of the evening news to advertising the books every time a new one is released, which is about every five minutes. It’s a familiar sight now - a sychophantic “entertainment journalist” heaps gushing praise on Ms. Rowling, as a queue of adults in bloody wizard cloaks wait patiently to have her sign their copies of the book. Because of this popularity amongst grownups, the publishers have released “Adult Editions” of the books - sadly that doesn’t mean they contain swearing and violence, it just means that the cover has a suitably boring, grownup-looking picture on the front, so as to make a few more quid out of all the forty year olds out there who feel rightly embarrassed to be reading books intended for prepubescents. Actual children constitute approximately 0.7% of the books’ readership, as they’re too busy developing their battle rap skills and impregnating eachother to bother with reading some old bollocks about boy wizards.

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