While there were regulars - a couple of mothers who would bring their children along to try to find new bedtime fodder; a man who wanted nothing but ecclesiastical history; a migrant student needing textbooks on management theory - on the whole ours was a passing trade. Over the course of three or four hours, we'd probably serve 40 or 50 customers - (I wanted to say 40 or 45, of course:
In other words, over the space of a year we probably encountered a couple of thousand people across our trestle tables. Out of those 2,000, I would calculate that a minimum of 1,800 had pretty much the same request.
"Excuse me, have you got anything on self-improvement?" "Could you show me your self-improvement section?" "I'm sorry to bother you but I'm looking for self-improvement. Do you have any of those?"
I found this dispiriting. Apart from the fact that such books are almost all texts of such banality and tedium that no-one should feel the need to drag their eyes across their pages, the impulse itself is so full of forlorn humility.
How has the world given so many people the message that they are not good enough? Was it always the same? Did the majority of us always find ourselves wanting - and, if so, against what are we measuring ourselves?