Follow @sotherans
Follow Me on Pinterest

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Controlled Chaos

“It is clear that the books owned the shop rather than the other way about. Everywhere they had run wild and taken possession of their habitat, breeding and multiplying, and clearly lacking any strong hand to keep them down.” 

It's a temptation in our modern world of phones and gadgets to believe that everything needs to happen instantly, or it's somehow dysfunctional. ORDER NOW screams Amazon at you from billboards, whilst your phone bleeps with 1036 messages about something inconsequential. It's a reflex that's easy to understand, but that doesn't always translate well to the internal bumblings of an antiquarian bookstore. To give you an idea of the complex operations at work whenever someone places an order for a book, I've broken down the process into stages so we can all better understand each other. 

1 - The customer finds a book they like online, or in one of our catalogues. Perhaps they have a question, or wish to purchase it. They call in, and a sinister voice rustles at the other end, with the almost imperceptible lilt to their tone that suggests having to walk to the phone was a small inconvenience. 

2 - The conversation concludes, and the hunt for the book is underway. The computer is loaded up, and immediately breaks down in a new and unforeseen fashion. Attempts to print a list of locations are confounded by the printer, which was possessed by the spirit of a train driver in 1872 and has been on strike ever since. 

3 - Technology having failed, staff rush to the shelves where the book was last seen (some time in the last decade). Some are killed by landslides of encyclopedias, treacherously placed statues or the endangered species of shelf badger unique to English bookstores. These are chalked down to acceptable losses.

4 - The shelf in question is empty, or filled with books of another kind entirely. A small but fierce debate rages as to whether this was planned, or just a natural phenomena. It is decided that noone is to blame.

5 - The remaining booksellers split into adventuring parties of 5 or less, and use a combination of divining rods, highly trained bloodhounds and alethiometers to track down the book. It is found somewhere entirely unpredictable, such as on the roof, or stapled to the underside of a bookcase.

6 - The customer is contacted, and informed that the book is available. The goblins prepare to package the books and ship them.

NB - No Sotheran's staff were harmed in the making of this article. We do not actually employ goblins. (Well, not in the literal sense.) Shelf Badgers are a fiction, until proven otherwise. The printer is definitely possessed.   

Monday, 5 March 2018

Upstairs, Downstairs

“The truth is that even big collections of ordinary books distort space, as can readily be proved by anyone who has been around a really old-fashioned secondhand bookshop, one that looks as though they were designed by M. Escher on a bad day and has more stairways than storeys and those rows of shelves which end in little doors that are surely too small for a full-sized human to enter. The relevant equation is: Knowledge = power = energy = matter = mass; a good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read.”                                                                                     - Terry Pratchett -  Guards, Guards!

There was always a certain comforting reliability to the inconvenience of the old shop layout. You could rely on the maze of peculiarly obstructive furniture to pose a small but consistent risk of death wherever you were in the store, from the teetering piles of journals on the highest shelves to the knee-high boxes that would leap in your way just as you tried to descend the stairs. Sadly our renovation required many of these idiosyncrasies to be removed or rearranged, and longstanding customers of Sotheran's will no doubt notice their absence. However, the new layout of the store has several advantages which arguably make up for the exodus of homicidal furniture. Here's a handy guide to what survived the purge, and what didn't:

Things we've changed:

  1. The right half of the store has been vacated, ready for a sublet which will proceed in due course. We (of course) were hoping for a Zoo, but according to our lawyers there's some issue with 'space requirements' and 'practicalities'.
  2. The new window display lets daylight into the store, which not only had the primary benefit of solving our vampire problem, but also helps the place seem more open and bright
  3. We replaced the long-suffering carpet on the upper floor with wooden flooring, which is superior to the carpet in that it hasn't taken on a suspicious shade of grey in some places.
  4. The "Grand Cabinet", ironic guardian of all books too strangely shaped to be housed anywhere else, was a casualty of the renovation and has been consigned to the void. RIP.
  5. The Childrens/Illustrated and Travel departments have moved downstairs, to make use of the new shelving space down there. It's not because they embarrass us. *sly wink*

Things we have kept:

  1. The staircase. We need it to get up and down. Motions to include an escalator were regrettably dismissed.
  2. The portraits of Mr & Mrs Sotheran, who brood suggestively from above the stairwell.
  3. The bookcases, partly kept out of appreciation for their Victorian charm, and partly because no one could be convinced to try moving them
  4. The bookshelf ladders, the mere rickety sight of which has been known to drive health and safety inspectors to drink.
  5. The staff, who have also been known to drive health and safety inspectors to drink