Tuesday, July 22, 2014

There is one thing wrong with the new Foyles

I was expecting to love the huge, shiny new Foyles in the former Central St Martins building on Charing Cross Road, but it's even better than I expected. The space and light and organisation don't blot out the eccentricity and curiosity; they accentuate it. No building containing this many freestanding shelves will ever be free of odd corners, however open its floorplan, and the imaginative ways the extra display space is used give a vivid sense of the fine individual tastes stocking the shop. There's more of everything, as far as I can tell. The magazine selection, already quite good, is now very good: I saw my first print copy of The Baffler there yesterday, and bought it. But the way the magazines are stocked is wildly frustrating.

Consider three magazines at the intersection of politics and culture: The Baffler, Adbusters, Dissent. They are none of them easily obtainable in Britain, and Foyles has the lot. Great! Now try to find them. Adbusters is easy: it's in the magazine display at the front, which looks extensive enough to be the whole thing, until you notice a little sign explaining that this is only the art and design magazines: a discreet colour-coded map lists selections of magazines on five different floors. And in fact that underestimates the complexity: most floors have several caches of magazines scattered around their different sections, and there are no signs within sections to tell you where the magazines might be hiding.

Dissent is, logically enough, among the politics magazines, which as promised are on the second floor - on a back wall underneath a secondhand book selection, just to the left of magazines about jazz and world music. (Magazines about rock, pop, film and theatre are on the far side of the same floor.) The Baffler, meanwhile, because of its bookish format, has been classified as a literary magazine: that puts it on the floor below. I look forward to browsing magazines at the new Foyles. I foresee a lot of exercise.

The scattered arrangement also seems to discourage stocking of weeklies: there were some in business, but literature didn't have the New Yorker (or the Atlantic or Harpers - perhaps they're all on another floor) and politics seemed very heavy on quarterlies and quite light on anything else. Stocking magazines is more of a North American bookshop habit than a British one; it's to be encouraged, especially now that so many newsagents are concentrating on the chocolate-and-booze business; but all the American bookstores I've been in kept the magazines together in one place, and there are good reasons for that.

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