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I've always liked bookshops. They have a nice sort of smell. Bookshops with a stationery section are even better - so many useful things and so colourful too.

In general though I avoid going into Spanish bookshops. They are a commonplace sort of shop but they are dangerous places best avoided.

The books are usually piled up, literally, with no order that I can ever discern. Sometimes there are thematic sections but their disposition in the shops seem to be quite random. In a bookshop yesterday I noticed that the children's section was next to accountancy. There was no subdivision of the section either - everything for children lumped in together - no alphabetisation, no division between literature and factual books, no age banding.

In Corte Inglés, the big department store, there is always a book section. I had a title in mind but I couldn't find it so I plucked up my courage and asked. The assistant took me from stand to stand searching for the book and in fact came up with two examples. It turned out that the books were arranged by publishers!

In fnac, which is by far and away the best organised bookshop I've been to in Spain, the assistant looked up the title we wanted on the computer system and then we headed off, with her, to get the book. We went to the section indicated in the catalogue, it wasn't there, she rechecked the computer, we went back to the section and indeed to two more sections before she found our book.

It's not this bizarre organisation that makes the shops difficult though. The main problem is that it is often impossible to browse the books because they are piled onto shelves behind the shop counter. You have to ask for whatever you want. This is fine if you want something specific but if you want to see what birding books they have and how much they are you find yourself in the tricky position of having to look through the books under the watchful eye of the shop person.

And to price. Often prices are marked on books but not always. Prices vary from publisher to publisher and it's easy to pay three times as much as you need to for a "classic" book unless you compare the various editions. And books are pretty expensive; there is legislation to stop discounting of books by more than 5% below the publisher's price so it's pretty common to pay 25€ for a paperback novel in the bestseller list. I picked up a book yesterday, it was unpriced, it was a collection of articles by a newspaper journalist but it was piled on top of some accountancy books. The book was reprinted in 2008, it's a soft cover book with 992 pages. It had no price so I asked. It cost 39.50€. I checked today, it's the same price on the Internet and, because of the rule about discounting, internet books actually cost more because of the postage and packing. I've heard that's the reason there is no

I presume there are well organised, modern bookshops in Spain but our paths seem destined never to cross.


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