07:30hrs. I’m standing outside Brighton rail station with a suitcase, but I’m having nothing to do with trains today. After a quick discussion with the on-duty policeman and the man on the information desk I plant myself outside the gates. With a flip of the lid, bearing the A2 legend
and some shuffling of the contents I am transformed into FreeBookMan. The case is packed with some of my old paperbacks (and hardbacks!) plus half-a-dozen chick-lit bestsellers picked up as a job lot on eBay with an eye to “my demographic”. An hour-and-a-half later the literature, the non-fiction, the mysteries, and the science fiction will all be gone, but every last one of those bally things will still be there.
I was up late tagging the books with BookCrossing labels and bundling them with some of my free postcards. Yes, I’m promoting my photographic services. I suspect the resemblance to a man flogging dodgy “Rolexes” is partly responsible for my initial difficulty in persuading people to take advantage of this genuine giveaway. All they have to do is take a book and a pack of postcards. “It’s alright: you don’t have to send them if you don’t want to, but I’d love it if you gave them away, especially to any friends you might have who are getting married.”
After a while I put on my woolly hat in case my shaved head suggests to passers-by that I’m trying to persuade them to worship Vishnu rather than just tell their mates what nice photos I take. It seems to help. Once some interest begins things get better. The power of crowds is fascinating. If one person conspicuously refuses my smiling offer then so do the next ten. If one person takes an interest then there’s soon a cluster of three punters bending over the open case—and even asking me to recommend a book to them. Why are humans so passive?
Mansfield Park and Think (Simon Blackburn’s introduction to philosophy) are gone in minutes; London Fields takes a bit longer. The three science fiction novels—admittedly these include Do Androids Dream… and I Am Legend—don’t go to people who look like they work in IT (two friendly twentysomething girls and a thirtysomething black guy with properly developed social skills). Some sixth-formers go crazy for my postcards. But no one, no one even touches the dusted pastel covers of Olivia Goldsmith’s Wish Upon A Star and Marian Keyes’ Angels. Is it just that it’s never read by the people it’s written about (urban twenty- and thirtysomething women) or is chick lit a dying genre? What does this say about the new Conservatives’ electoral prospects?
By nine I’m pleased to say there’s not much left in the suitcase. What are the two remaining “literary” books?: A Confederacy Of Dunces and Helen Dunmore’s Talking To The Dead. Go figure.
Next week I’m going to set myself up outside the station as FreeSexMan.