Adventures in the Book Trade (Part 5)

In which The Author remembers a work colleague

I’m sitting in my local pub, having a quiet pint after chatting for a while to Ian P., an old schoolmate of mine. We were talking about the standard of general education in this country, and how things have gone downhill since we were lads. When I went to the toilet, I spotted an advertisement for next weekend’s entertainment:


Now, let’s just analyze this for a moment. The media are full of sixties nostalgia as we approach the fiftieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death, not to mention the fiftieth anniversaries of the deaths of C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley, all of which fall next Friday. (Personally, my Inner Geek and I will be marking a far more important fiftieth anniversary next Saturday night…)
I doubt whether, of all the possible science fiction scenarios dreamt up since William Hartnell first stepped out of the TARDIS, one has yet to include the former leader of the Nation of Islam singing in my local pub.
The sign reminded me of when I started working in the book trade, way back in 1989. One of my colleagues was a lovely girl named Kathryn, who had a degree in Theology and very little knowledge of what went on down here on Earth.
[A digression: With perfect comedy timing, Jason D., who used to work with me in Dillons and Waterstones, has just been online, asking me when we’re going to meet up for a long-overdue couple of pints or five. He said he was looking forward to reminiscing about students and their daft questions. I told him that it wasn’t just students I had to deal with…]
During the summer break of 1990, Blackwell’s took delivery of the set texts for the forthcoming academic season. To say we’d over-ordered would be putting it mildly. They arrived by the pallet load during a very small window, and we needed to fit them into even smaller windows – namely the ones which made up the long edges of our rectangular shop. (You’d be amazed by how many books we managed to squeeze into a tiny space. Not even the Time Lords themselves could have got away with it!)
One of the books on the American Studies course was The Autobiography of Malcolm X, co-written with Alex Haley. In the fullness of time, thirty copies of the Penguin paperback arrived in the shop, complete with the striking photo of Malcolm X that everybody knows from old TV documentaries and news items. Well, almost everybody…
In a classic piece of Kathryn dippiness, she picked up one of the books, scrutinized the cover for a few moments, and then turned to me.
‘All right, I give up,’ she said, perfectly seriously. ‘Who was Malcolm the Tenth?’

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