As I sit here in the bookshop on weekends it is becoming clearer to me. The 'Self-Help' section of bookshops has become the new Sunday tabernacle: a destination worthy of pilgrimage and reverence.
The 'Self-Help' section is always one of the most frequented areas of most bookshops. If you only have one customer in the store, they will probably be standing there in front of the Deepak Chopra's, Sylvia Browne's and John Edwards'.
The boss here has this thing where we are supposed to ask every customer staring at a bookshelf "Can I help you with anything?". Normally I don't mind doing this but I'm loathe to do it when the customer is standing in front of 'Self-Help'. They shouldn't need my help! They've clearly displayed how much assistance they need from me by being there, in SELF help! Ironic that the 'Self-Help' section is then filled with books by others telling you how to live your life.
Anyway, it is a popular section.
But, on Sundays, it comes alive! The otherwise quiet bookshop fills with a constant stream of middle-aged housewives, needy emo-girls and demasculated men.
"Could you tell me when the next Sylvia Browne book comes out?"
"Did you see Allison Dubois on Oprah the other day?"
"I've been feeling very closed in lately, very... emotionally and spiritually stifled. Do you know what book might be able to help me? I think it might be psychic vampires, or maybe the spirit of my grandmother."
"Do you think men are really from Mars and women from venus?"
On Sundays, the pilgrims come - looking for a quick fix of that new-age-religion to replace the gap left by the old-time-religion they miss so much but can't actually admit to. They kneel, as if in prayer, before the shelves. Their eyes scan the shelves, trying to discern auguries of their future from the array of titles etched on spines. Titles of crypto-babble and pseudo-spirituality designed to intrigue and offer hope. The new 'Great Mystery' laid out before them, if only they could decide which book holds the true Covenant of Eternal Happiness.
Is the Truth to be found in "Healing Words from Angels"? Or, "The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades" or "The Fung Shui Way"? Maybe it is in "Buddhism for Busy People" or "The Rise and Fall of Atlantis"?
Every Sunday they come to seek the answers to the mysteries, to unlock the hidden powers within themselves through the action of digesting (for this is my body) someone elses words of wisdom and drinking in (for this is my blood) the wisdom that flows from America's publishing heartland.
After what seems an age these abeyant pilgrims rise, the pattern of the carpet a stigmata on their knees. Their hands reach forth in sudden understanding, grasping a title, grasping for a new saviour. They have chosen and, as they leave the shop, solemn and awed by the wisdom of the blurb they have read, they are happy to pay the premium at the counter for a book that costs three times what it would if it were correctly classed as fiction.
But that doesn't matter, for they are happy, renewed, expectant of delving into the pages of their new bible... at least for this week. For, next week, they will return to kneel before the shelves to find a new answer, a new voice to tell them how to live their lives without having to think for themselves. Meet the new religion, same as the old religion. Only the venue has changed.
(This article was originally published on the 31st August, 2008 at http://kephra.blogspot.com/2008/08/as-i-sit-here-in-bookshops-on-weekends.html. It as since become the basis for my novel-in-progress "Help Yourself")
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