Practically every charity shop in London seems to have a copy of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I’m not kidding. Last week, in five charity shops in Muswell Hill, I found six copies of the book. It’s become a comforting sight as I peruse the book sections of charity shops, like bumping into a friendly face in a room full of strangers.
It’s actually a book I really like, but I can understand why so many people have discarded their copies. The narrative is quite complex, with the story handed over through time and space via a number of characters and literary styles. So, not really a book for people who don’t read that many books. Which is why it was a strange choice for The Richard and Judy Book Club a few years back. And that is probably the key reason people are giving it away in such numbers. The Book Club guarantees sales, but it doesn’t guarantee people will actually finish the book before chucking it.
This afternoon I was in Wood Green and walked back home via Turnpike Lane. There, between the saree emporiums and the kebab shops, was the most unlikely charity shop I’ve ever seen. It looked like a ruined palace and was only identifiable by the words “charity shop” scrawled on a piece of cardboard. Inside was strange. They sold old televisions and computer monitors as well as other unidentifiable electrical appliances. The book section was just three piles of books (not stacks, actual higgledy-piggledy piles) in no apparent order. On the top of the pile was a hardback copy of Cloud Atlas. Some things in life are constants.
I’m never sure if the presence of a book in a charity shop is a compliment or an insult. On one hand, it means the book is popular enough to be purchased in the first place – but on the other hand it means that it’s not loved enough to be kept on the bookshelf. I have only ever once found a copy of my book in a charity shop, and it gave me a small warm thrill, like being licked by an electric cat. I liked it.