Notes from West London · Reading

No more “Self Help” at the bookshop

Just over four years ago, in December 2015, I took my first tentative steps in the world of Blogging with this piece about my local bookshop. The piece is short, a mere 162 words, and it notes that a section of the shop was called “Smart Thinking”. This appeared to be a fairly new category, and I speculated that it could be aimed at people who would not be seen anywhere near the “Self Help” section of a bookshop, although some titles could conceivably fit into both sections.

At that time “Smart Thinking” and “Self Help” were on opposite sides of the store. Either side of “Self Help” were “Religion”, “Spirituality”, “Health” and “Diet & Fitness”. The “Smart Thinking” section was flanked by “Philosophy” and “Business”. These days, most of these categories occupy the same corner of the first floor of the shop (the north west corner, for what it’s worth) and there have been further changes. “Self Help” has been renamed “Self Care” and sits between “Health” and “Spirituality”. There is no sign of “Religion” or “Diet & Fitness” anywhere near them. “Smart Thinking” takes up the equivalent of three large bookcases (one set of shelves from floor level to around 2m high) and is in between “Popular Science” (two large bookcases) and “Business” and “Business and Management”. I didn’t feel comfortable taking photos of all this, so made a note of how everything is arranged. The number in brackets shows the equivalent number of bookcases for each section.

Business (1)
Business and Management (1)
Smart Thinking (3)
Popular Science (2)
Health (1)
Self Care (1)
A-Z by author (1) [This is also part of “Self Care”]
Spirituality (1)

There are also three tables on the floorspace in front of these shelves, stacked with books and categorized as follows: “Smart Thinking”, “Popular Science”, “Business and Economics”. The third of these does not appear to have a group of shelves with the same description.

From “Business” round to “Spirituality” takes up the equivalent of 11 large bookcases, and the shelves form an incomplete rectangle (three and a half sides of a rectangle). “Self Care” and “Spirituality” stick out at 90 degrees from the rear wall of the shop. If these shelves were extended as far as “Business” the rectangle would be complete.

Backing onto “Self Care” and “Spirituality” is the start of the “Travel” section, heading clockwise round the first floor. “Travel” incorporates “UK”, “Ordnance Survey” and “Foreign Travel”. Between them they take up the equivalent of 17 large bookcases, way more than “Business”, “Smart Thinking”, “Self Care” and others listed above combined. This suggests that people spend more time and money on books that help them to plan their travels than on authors like Yuval Noah Harari (you’ll find him in “Smart Thinking”), Daniel Levitin (“Popular Science”, he’s moved from “Smart Thinking”), Stephen R Covey (“Self Care”), Tim Harford (“Business”) and the rest.

Maybe the way things are arranged now suggests that the label of “Self Help” was just too off-putting for people round here. Or maybe it suggests something that I have, for a long time, hoped was true: all books are “Self Help” books.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s