As a bookseller, there’s one question that I can be sure of hearing every year, round about now: ‘John, have you put up the Christmas opening hours blogpost?’ I smile every time I hear it, because it means one thing – there are only a few sleeps left until Christmas day itself.
The Christmas opening hours blogpost is, in fact, a longstanding LRB Bookshop tradition. Other bookshops around the country have adopted the idea, but all Christmas opening hours blogposts have one thing in common: they specify clearly and correctly the bookshop’s opening times through the Christmas and New Year period. It’s the one place on our website where you won’t find recommendations of the latest releases (though, while we’re on the subject, the new Naomi Alderman novel is really good), or previews of our lively upcoming 2017 events programme. No: a proper bookshop Christmas opening hours blogpost confines itself to the task at hand.
I’ve poured myself a cup of tea and extracted a couple of mince pies from the box, so everything is set up and ready for me to write my Christmas Opening Hours blogpost. My colleague Gayle is adjusting the greetings card displays, while Barney chats with a customer, and Natalia moves large boxes downstairs in a way entirely compatible with her extensive manual handling training. Outside an owl hoots from Bury Place, and if one strains, one discerns – perhaps? – the faintest jingle of sleighbells on the wind outside. I shake the frost off my boots, sit down and begin.
But another email has appeared in my inbox. ‘What has happened to the Christmas opening hours blogpost?’ it reads, under the subject heading ‘Progress??’ I dash off a short reply, including a potted history of the Christmas opening hours blogpost up to now, and realise with a jolt that I’ve finished my whole cup of tea. There are three other empty cups on the counter. I gather them up and take them downstairs with me, and am pleased to see there are still two mince pies remaining in the box; I take both out in case Barney wants one and head back upstairs. Barney shakes his head kindly, pointing to the mince pie I brought upstairs for him ten minutes previously. A customer asks for help reaching the Borges selected short stories on a top shelf, which I’m glad to provide, and we chat for a while about Borges. I sit back down and once again realize that I have finished my whole cup of tea.
Part of the pleasure of composing the Christmas opening hours blogpost is thinking back on the other opening hours blogposts that have enlivened the year. Our Easter opening hours blogpost, for one, and our Stocktake opening hours blogpost – how long ago the Stocktake seems now! 17 days left until Christmas. Outside, are those the first few flakes of snow I can see, dawdling over Truckles and Pied Bull Yard, before coming to rest on the outside tables of the Cake Shop – occupied, in this weather, only by a few brave souls wrapped up snugly in jumpers? Gayle comes back upstairs with another cup of tea, and I carefully remove my fourteenth mince pie from the foil, and begin.