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You know that moment when you take the Sunday papers through to the dining room? The first thing I do is take out all the fliers and put them in the paper recycling. This lightens the load considerably and you’re no longer in danger of dropping a TruPrint envelope into your toast and marmalade. A couple of years ago I was doing this when the words “Six Classic Crime Novels for £6.99” caught my eye. I’m addicted to crime novels, but I was sure they’d be rubbish at that price. There were two Eric Amblers – “The Mask of Dimitrios” and “Journey into Fear”, a Francis Iles “Malice Aforethought”, Nicholas Blake’s “The Beast Must Die”, Christianna Brand’s “Green for Danger” and Edmund Crispin’s “Love Lies Bleeding”! The recommended retail price was over £30 – I knew it was, as I’d been drooling over some of these books in Waterstones. I probably wouldn’t have bought the Amblers, as I regard them as “adventure” rather than “crime”, but even taking the p&p into account I was still getting four books that I wanted for less than the price of two.
I bet you’re thinking “Ah, they’ve done that to get you hooked”, but no, that isn’t the case. You’re not joining a club in the sense that you have any commitment to buy more books; you’re simply buying cheap books. There’s no Editor’s choice, and although you get the catalogue each month there’s no need to respond unless you want to buy. There’s an incentive to keep buying. Each book (or set) that you buy has a points value attached to it – generally 1 point for each full pound of purchase price. When you have 50 points you can have a free book to the value of £2.99. Now that may not sound very much, but there are several books for adults and even more for children at that price. For 75 points you can have a free book worth £4.99 and for 100 points it’s £6.99. Any unused points are carried forward. I’ve never used my “points”, and there doesn’t seem to be any simple way of finding out how many I have.
The selection is good. The first half of the catalogue is devoted to children’s books. It’s very strong on sets of books, which can be a mixed blessing. If you try one and find that it’s loved, then you’ve struck lucky. If you try one and they hate it, then the charity shop strikes lucky. The blurb gives the usual précis of the contents, and also gives the rough age grouping for which the book is appropriate. I find this very useful, as I buy for my grandsons who live in Nepal and I can see at a glance if the book is likely to be suitable. The age range covered is from 0 to young teens. Usefully the choice isn’t restricted to fiction. There are reference books, practical books and non-fiction. I think I’ll be getting my three-year old Grandson “Playful Pets” which includes five poems and five sliding puzzles for £2.99 and the 17-month old will be getting to grips with “Hide and Seek Fun for Everyone” – four books for £4.99. I wish they were a little older so that I could give them Roald Dahl’s “Revolting Recipes” at £2.99. In fact I may get it and hide it away for a while!
In the adult section there is nothing (I think) that you’d find on the current best-sellers list, but there’s probably something for everyone. I’m half tempted by the Penguin Modern Fiction Collection – ten books for £9.99. There are books by Kipling, Martin Amis, Kafka, Barry Hines, Alan Paton, Camus, Evelyn Waugh, Norman Mailer, Orwell and Paul Bowles. I’ll have to check, but I suspect that I have too many of them to make it worthwhile. I’ll carefully avoid Tarborelli’s “Madonna” at £4.99, but my husband might be tempted by Tiger Woods “The Championship Years” at the same price.
There’ s always a good selection of gardening and cookery books, although, once again, they’re not best-sellers – six Royal Horticultural Society books for £8.99 as an example. Dave Pelzer’s “Help Yourself” is there at £3.99, but I can’t resist Sandi Toksvig’s “Flying Under Bridges” at the same price. I thought Peter Mayle was a little past his sell-by date, but you can buy “A Year in Provence”, “Toujours Provence” and “Encore Provence” for £4.99 the set. I think I’ve found my friend’s birthday present as well – four books including Pat Barker’s “Another World”, Edna O’Brien’s “Girl with Green Eyes” and Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch” all packed up in a drawstring bag for £4.99.
On the back page there’s usually a “something for everyone” collection, and this month is no exception. There are ten books for £9.99, including a Wilbur Smith, a Tom Sharpe, a Clare Francis, a Winston Graham, a James Herbert, an Elizabeth Jane Howard, a Lynda La Plante and a Dick Francis. Even if you only read half of them and give the rest away, it’s still very good value.
The Book People are based in St. Helens, and if you’re on the mailing list you’ll be offered the choice of ordering by post (you’ll need a stamp) or by telephone (0870 number). There’s no mention of a web site – but I know there is one. It’s at www.thebookpeople.co.uk. and I had a look.
The books are divided into categories. There’s Sports, Hobbies, Health, Outdoors, Famous Faces, Reference, For Cooks, For Toddlers, For Kids and READING! If only the ones under “Reading” are to be read, what are the others for? Supporting dodgy table legs? There’s also a section for Audio Books and another for Stationery, which has the usual packs of greetings cards, personal organisers etc.
There’s much the same range of books that you get in the mailed catalogue, but you can also check to see if stock from earlier catalogues is still available. You can view a “Text-only listing” of all the books in the “Reading” section, which shows what’s available. The organisation of this list could be improved. I once saw a cartoon of a rather dizzy secretary complaining to her boss that there wasn’t enough space under “M” in the filing range for all the people whose names began with Mr, Mrs and Miss. Well there’s a bit of a log jam here under “The”. I can understand “The River Cottage Cookbook”, but “The Sue Grafton Collection” would have defeated me!
I had a look in “The Gift Centre” which promises to make appropriate suggestions for gifts. I tried “Our top 5 for Grandparents” on the basis that being one I could see how well it would be likely to work. There’s Rosamunde Pilcher’s “Winter Solstice” (an obvious dig there!) “Complete Poems and Songs of Robert Burns” by, strangely enough, Robert Burns (er, no, sorry, not really), “Autumn Gardens” (another groan), “Art the Critics Choice” (I thought that this might mean Art1954 had achieved well-deserved fame, but no, it’s the book by John Russell and Marina Vaizey. Not really a grandparenty book is it?) and “The Garden Know How Collection” – four books by Penelope Hobhouse, which I might be quite pleased to receive.
Looking to place my order I went into the Site Help pages. I saw a section headed “Postage Costs”. Better check I thought. “You can find all the postage costs in our Delivery section” it said. Postage is free for orders over £25, and otherwise it’s £2.95 for the UK mainland and £3.95 for ROI and Northern Ireland. Someone must sign for the delivery. The books are promised within five to seven working days, but there are no weekend deliveries. Next day delivery is available at £4.95, but orders must be placed before 1pm. In the mailed catalogue I saw that delivery between 5pm and 9pm is available for a £1.50 surcharge.
The one reservation that I have about The Book People concerns delivery. After I had placed my first order for “The Classic Crime Collection” I told my daughter about it. She wanted one as well, so I put in another order, which came to exactly the same amount as my first order. I wrote my customer number in red on the order form and sent it off. A fortnight later no books had arrived, but my credit card had suffered the damage. I rang. I could not get through to the person at the other end of the line the fact that there were two orders, and two charges had been made. It was so bad that I did wonder if someone was being deliberately obstructive and finally I rang off as “there’s no one else you can speak to”. I set about getting a letter from the credit card company to the effect that there had been two charges. A week later the matter resolved itself. An opened box appeared on my doorstep. It contained my order, but was addressed to someone with a not very similar name, who lives about half a mile away. They had found the box when they returned home one evening, and had opened it. Eventually they got round to ringing The Book People and finally established that it was my order that had been sent to them. They, in turn, delivered it to me. I wrote a letter of complaint to The Book People, but I never got so much as an acknowledgement.
In future I will be ordering online, as that would seem to be the safest way of ensuring that the order gets to me. Checkout is reasonably simple online, and for those who doubt the security aspects of this you can request that The Book People telephone you to take your order.