Answering Bill

This evening, I am floundering. A great day out at the London Book Fair (LBF) meeting people from the BA, mixing with publishers and, yes, even a few other booksellers (but why so few that I knew, I wondered?), then returning home laden with catalogues, free books, a box of Turkish Delight courtesy of Kimse Yok Mu, enough pens to keep me going for another year and various other freebies. All in all a very worthwhile visit.

Then I discovered Bill Cahusac’s ‘Confession’:

As I got to it I stopped very deliberately, closed my eyes and cried out to God. I asked that he in some miraculous way might shut the shop I was stood in front of.

It wasn’t a sex shop pedalling pornography or a new age boutique that offered tarot card reading. It was a Christian bookshop.

Why? Why would a staff member of a church here in London pray for a Christian bookshop to close down? Was it a former branch of SPCK in the dread thrall of the Brewer Brothers, one of the unfortunate casualties of the St Stephen the Great fiasco? That I could understand, to some extent at least: but even then I’d prefer to pray for the shop to be rescued, not closed down. It’s not always easy being a Christian bookseller, even in the relatively secure environment of LST, and we don’t need the people who should be our supporters taking a stand against us.

I read on, my heart breaking:

I remembered my last visit. As I had walked in the gentleman behind the counter hadn’t so much as acknowledged me from behind his copy of The Church Times. I scanned the shelves but couldn’t find what I was looking for. I hovered hopefully for a minute or so before leaving to a muffled “bye” from behind the paper.

How, I asked myself, is it in any way a good witness to the world? How was this shop in any way reflecting the glory of the creator of the universe or the love of God who became flesh?

How indeed? Especially as Bill goes on to describe the shop with its paintwork “grey, cracked and peeling”, with books in the window with faded covers and yellowed pages. How, in fact, was it possible for this shop to even be in business? I thought back over my day at LBF and wished I’d had time to attend this morning’s Small Business Forum on ‘Effective Window Display’ — and wished more fervently yet that the gentleman in Bill’s bookshop had done so. Perhaps he’d have had to close his shop for the day to attend, but LBF is free for booksellers and I’m sure he’d have come away inspired — and better, surely, to close the shop for a day than to allow it to degenerate to the point where even someone like Bill begins to pray for its closure?

So, gentle reader, what would your advice be — to the gentleman in the bookshop? To Bill? Does there ever come a point when we give up in despair and pray for Christian bookshops to close? Or should those in Christian leadership rather rally round and help try to get the show back on the road in a way that does ‘reflect the glory of the creator’?

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5 thoughts on “Answering Bill

  1. Hi Phil
    Thanks for your comment on my post and for the response on your blog.
    You are of course absolutely right – the shop I was writing about (which was not in London) does not in any way represent the many brilliant Christian bookshops I have visited in London (and elsewhere) where the staff were friendly and helpful and the shops themselves looked fantastic, and that was what made me so sad.

  2. Hmm, maybe I should not admit to this but I also often find Christian bookshops to be a sobering experience. Partially because of the way that they present themselves and, subsequently, the message they contain and partially because the ghettoisation of the religious message is a mixed message in and of itself.

    The Ameracanisation of content is also somewhat demoralising as well – especially with no attempt to regionalise the content – so that all given I suppose it’s all sounding pretty negative.

    Apart from all that I’m thankful that there is a place where we can rely on finding books which cry out when mouths remain silent at times and I’ve often found gems of truth that stay with me in turbulent times. I haven’t come out of a Christian bookshop praying for it to close yet, but I have come out of many in a very thoughtful mood.

    Advice for shops? Look at what the other shops on the high street do and copy! Don’t try and sell too much (my local Christian shop packs so much in that everything looks cramped and overbearing) and personally I’d say don’t look at what the chain tells you to stock and to sell but sell the books/objects which make the most impact to Christian and non. And Veggie Tales t-shirts in adult sizes please.

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