Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Music for bookshops

Wherever I go Christmas music is playing and it isn't even December yet. This was also true several weeks ago, when I made the rounds of local department stores in search of a new audio system for the shop. It's maddening (but mustn't rant, most unbecoming). Instead, how about a few music suggestions for bookshops: the song When I write the book (about my love...) by Nick Lowe, or the EP Books by Belle & Sebastian, and of course Every Day I Write the Book by Elvis Costello. Can anyone think of others?

I always have something playing, either the radio or a cd, not too loud. I don't want to have one of those quiet shops - you know, you go in and it's TOO QUIET and you're nervous about the floorboards creaking or chatting with your friend or picking up a book or even sniffing. Background music helps. Customers feel like they can settle in and be comfortable, that this isn't a library. I spend some time putting together cds to play at work - I still love making music mixes (a throwback to the radio show in college, I think, which I had with two friends). I've been in the throes of a love for alt-country (old-timey, twang, hellbilly, call it what you will) for several years now, so much of what I play is of that persuasion. I'll even put on some Christmas music, a week before Christmas, if there's snow on the ground and I'm feeling the spirit. I've got a great old jazzy/bluesy collection of holiday tunes from the thirties and forties (has the classic Swingin' them Jingle Bells on it). Also Christmas records by Dwight Yoakam, and of course Elvis. I just put up some twinkle lights around the shop, in the big window up front and in the back room, which tends to be a little dark. I'll get some mini candy canes next time I drop by the market. The weather forecast says snow this weekend. In spite of the rampant commercialism, I still love this time of year.

Back to the theme at hand, though - music in bookshops - for or against? Likes and dislikes? I've been in all kinds of bookshops, from dead silent to string quartets to blaring punk. I've seen those classical music compilations for booklovers, but I don't know (speaking of commercialism). I like a little Haydn now and then, and I like a little Johnny Cash, too.

When I'm working, there HAS to be music in the shop. Something about the soothing nature of having something in the background, something frenetic playing while the shop is busy (the shop "favourite" seems to be something Klezmer related in these instances - this is not my choice), or something to keep your mind occupied during the lulls (generally classical or bluesy - for some reason, jazz does not seem to fly).

Some current shop favourites at present include:
- The Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem - "Irish Songs of Drinking and Rebellion"
- Tom Waits - "Heartattack and Vine"
- Robert Johnson's complete discography
- The "Big Surf II" compilation, incredibly apt now that winter is about to set in... gets us thinking of warmer climes, which is also helpful for those regular occasions when the heat is not working.
- The Pogues's "If I Should Fall From Grace with God", but only just before closing, and we always have to skip "Bottle of Smoke" - for obvious reasons.

As far as classical goes, Franck and Mahler have been getting plenty of spins when we're feeling energetic, Bach's pieces when things are slow.

The place just feels dead without music.
Back when I worked in a used bookstore, I would play soundtracks from movies that were based on books.
Hi Phil, thanks for commenting - and I have to say that I LOVE your shop, though it's been at least five years since the last time I was in Halifax... I bought some great books out of the vault, and a bunch upstairs from the U.S. history/travel area, and a few books about books downstairs. Love Halifax, love the bookshops and the whole feel of the city. And the countryside around town - how quickly you can leave the city and really be RURAL.

I'm a Pogues fan too - have you ever seen the film "Straight to Hell" - the Pogues are in it, as is Joe Strummer, and Elvis Costello. Tom Waits is a favorite of mine, though I can skip some of his circus-freak stuff, it weirds me out. Klezmer, hmmm. That can be a bit frantic at times - not conducive to browsing.

Hey Meghan - great idea. I have a few soundtracks, I've already mentioned "Master and Commander" and I've got "A Room with a View" and a few others...
S. Two cds will be in the post in the near future. One for general use. One for "I've had a really foul day, there is no one in the shop and I need to howl and the moon" use (you know, "barbaric yawp music".

No bad words in the first, all bets off in the second.

I concur with the Klezmer assessment. As I said, that is John's doing, not mine. :)

As far as the Pogues film, no, I haven't gotten around to it yet, but a colleague of mine is a huge fan, and saw the film last week, with glowing recommendations for it. I shall have to get ahold of a copy soon.

I feel terrible for not having visited your shop yet. Where are you located in Bangor? I pass through a couple of times a year, but usually just as a quick stopover en route to Portland or Boston. I will definitely make an effort to stop in next spring, though.

Our shop still looks the same: like a library exploded and the clean-up crew decided to leave the mess for nostalgic purposes. We're actually on a buying moratorium right now due to the excess stock. But since we are all gluttonous when it comes to anything biblio-related, the "not buying" policy tends to get side-stepped periodically. Periodically meaning nearly every time someone brings anything in.
On Jane Austen's birthday,I use to play a couple of CDs in her honor-the soundtrack to Sense & Sensibility,The soundtrack to P&P(Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle version)and Readings from the Works of Jane Austen done by Helena Bonham Carter(she does one heck of a Lady Catherine voice!).

Most of the time,we had to play children's CDs in my former bookstore job,which is fine when it's something good like Sesame Street or Free to Be You and Me but Raffi nonstop....ARGGH!

One CD that would be good for a bookstore is the offical Gilmore Girls soundtrack-a great mixed medley of tunes.
Ian, my dear - can't wait to hear 'em. Burn baby burn....

Do stop in, Phil, if you come through town... I'm downtown on Central Street, a few doors down from Lippincott Books, two blocks from City Hall.

Love the image of an exploded library. You guys really do have books up to the rafters, it's both wonderful and awe-ful.

Hi T - yes Raffi would have driven me bonkers too. I'd be more inclined to play They Might Be Giants or something. In my own previous life as a bookstore clerk (new books,long time ago), my boss subscribed to Muzak tapes. I never knew if their uniform dreadfulness was due to her selection, or the company's... either way, they lulled me into a stupor.

More good soundtrack suggestions, thanks.
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