Not being particularly enthused by the frames on display, he asked if there was anything else on offer. I only stock what sells, came the reply. The framer might just as well have said, I only sell what stocks. So much for customer service.
I can see the picture now as I sit at my desk and it looks fine to me, outlined in plain beech, but my husband wanted something more inspiring to complement his purchase. And, in an age when we can choose who supplies our electricity, and when a trip to the supermarket constitutes an exercise in decision-making, he should have been able to get it.
As it happens, our car is black, and I'm with Henry Ford on the unimportance of some consumer choices. Even I'm not so stupid as to blame a mechanical breakdown on plumping for the wrong colour.
But when it comes to aesthetics, in matters of art and literature, it's an insult to be fobbed off with second-hand choices. Tastes differ, that's what makes us human, yet it sometimes feels as if the book world thinks we're all clones of some zombified Stepford-wife reader, drooling over the latest ghost-written celeb novel.
Some may want to lay the blame on publishers, others – like Howard Jacobson's alter ego in his novel Zoo Time – readers who would rather be writers themselves. I don't know, maybe we've got what we asked for, maybe this is just how capitalism works. Like it or not, we're all complicit: as readers, buying our books at knockdown prices; as writers, however reluctantly, turning ourselves into a brand.
Said husband (of course it's the same one, I'm not a bigamist) was appalled when I bought The Night Rainbow for less than half price at Sainsbury's, but, with the nearest independent bookstore fifteen miles away and my pathetic boycotting of Amazon, I didn't consider it a compromise too far. (He doesn't know I went back later to snap up a couple more as presents.) And at least they were stocking something a bit more inspiring than Fifty Shades of Grey.
But it shows that good books are still out there, it's just different to how it used to be. And, in consequence, I'll soon be bringing you the annethology interview with Claire King, author of The Night Rainbow. Here on annecdotal, I'll be blogging soon on what looks like my read of the year, a chilling account of a state that doesn't do capitalism, Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son.
What do you think of the muddle that is early twenty-first century publishing? As a reader, or as a writer, have you sussed how to navigate your own way through?