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On the shelves.

FIRST POSTED: 01/01/13

It is with much sadness that I report on the *recent passing of Cob Records in Bangor’s High Street. Cob Records was a 50-year-old institution as far as mail-order records was concerned, although I’m happy to confirm that the original Cob Records in Porthmadog is very much still in business. Back in a previous lifetime I spent many years making deliveries around north Wales and whenever I had an opportunity to pass through Porth I used to stop in that super convenient but tiny car park right outside the shop to see what they had on offer there. It was here that I first heard, among many, many others, Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life and listening to the latter album, in fact a double album, straight through meant a late finish that day. Heavy caravan traffic on the A487 was the excuse I usually used when visiting Cob. As far as I was then concerned, shopping in Cob Records was as cool as it gets, except for working there.

I used to spend most of my time in the ‘M’ sections where I picked up albums (yes, we’re talking LPs here) by Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and Pat Metheny, all nestling comfortably together. Browsing through the records shops in Barcelona for the latest releases from these artists would require some movement as they would be filed under J, V and P, respectively. Joe Jackson, Marilyn Manson and Manfred Mann obviously wouldn’t cause problems but they are the exceptions. The late, but non-lamented Virgin Superstore in its short life in Barcelona even had albums by the same artists on different floors. Joni Mitchell’s Mingus was in the basement, in the Jazz section, while her early, folkier albums such as Clouds were on the first floor.

The problem is worse with bands whose names are not personal names but combinations of words, like Dire Straits and Thin Lizzy, which were usually found under D and T, respectively. When the group’s name was a combination of an adjective and noun, the Rolling Stones, and the Travelling Wilburys for example, the letter of the noun was used for filing purposes. In Barcelona, and in Spain in general, it’s the other way around, and while the brits would talk about the ‘Stones’ and the ‘Wilburys’, here in bcn these bands would be referred to as ‘los Rollings’ and ‘Los Travellings’.

None of this is too important; I’d usually go through all the letters anyway but this cultural peculiarity in filing has a parallel with the way books are arranged on bookshelves here in Spain. I, like most British browsers, would typically incline my right ear to my right shoulder and scan the book titles as I made my way along the shelves. This is impossible in Spain and is exceedingly annoying because the titles on the spines of the books are sometimes printed from top to bottom and sometimes from bottom to top, thus causing shoppers to tilt their heads towards alternate shoulders like boxers pretending to listen to the referee’s final instructions just before they touch gloves and head for their respective corners. For someone, like me, with problems with the cervicals, book shopping in Spain is a big hassle, and totally avoidable.

Is it too late to sort this out before I give up the ghost and have to buy all my books from websites?

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Ben Fotut

    Yes, it’s true, and I’d never clicked to the spine problem. Have just spent a few moments looking like a boxer moving head from side to side. Does Kindle have the same issue? What annoys me more about books here is the rather odd habit of putting the contents list at the end of a book and calling it ‘Index’. There is presumably a logic to it, but it just (to these North European eyes) seems, well, wrong.

    Happy blogging in 2013.

    1. Bob

      Ben: yes, having the contents page at the end of the book is a little frustrating when you are used to finding it at the front. I have always presumed that this was traditional Spanish and Catalan practice (seems to be: http://ca.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumari ), and as you suggest, is ultimately just a different convention with its pros and cons. However, the frustration is perhaps exacerbated now (and probably being suffered just as much or more by Spanish readers) because the Anglo Saxon convention might be colonising the practice here. What do you think?

      In the case of the orientation of titles on book spines, my guess is that no Spanish convention on the matter ever existed, whereas among English publishers it seems to have.

      Another point about the blog post. It’s a while since I ruffled through albums in a record shop in an English-speaking country. But I don’t recall The Rolling Stones ever being listed under S or Pink Floyd under F. What about multi-word names: would Dexy’s Midnight Runners be under D, M or R? and Tears for Fears? They Might be Giants under G? No way. If it’s not strictly the name of the person, the musican involved, then it just goes under the first letter of the first word. That’s my memory of how it goes (or went).

      That of course doesn’t solve all problems. Articles are a bit difficult. In my experience the word “The” was usually ignored – “The Beatles” – under B of course. Not always though, which made it difficult in cases where there was some debate about whether a band had “The” in its name or not. The Pink Floyd? And what would you do with names combining a singer and a group: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers? Especially as in many cases these names kind of evolve: in some cases, people referred to the name of the band initially, and then later the name of the singer/star kind of took over. Or “Neil Young and Crazy Horse”, where it also indicated just one phase in an artist’s longer career. The Jimi Hendrix Experience? According to the different “rules” suggested here and above, classification under T, J, H or E would be possible. But common sense suggests that Hendrix should always be filed under Hendrix, doesn’t it? And all Neil Young combinations under Y (except for C,S,N and Y of course… oh dear).

      In any case I’m sure that by now some geeky Library Science student has written a thesis on it…

      1. Ben Fotut

        Ben again, wishing he could be as conscientious writing his own damn blog as he is adding to Marc’s.

        And, to add to the debate: on arrival in Spain I was hugely puzzled to see that fiction was often arranged by publishers. Similar filing only very rarely happens in record shops (and do we realise that future generations will have no idea what a ‘record shop’ was?): ‘On-U’ albums come to mind here.

        I also remember this from bookshops in Paris, but it seems to be a dying habit here; the very wonderful +Bernat, for example, puts all books published by Acantilado together. Highly attractive they might be, but Edmund de Waal’s (non-fiction) Hare with Amber Eyes is filed next to their reprints of Simenon’s Maigret. All very odd.

    2. marc_samida

      I should (possibly – oh go on then, I will) add something about the late, unlamented Barcelona Virgin Records Store, now Zara. As some of you may recall, it stretched over three floors and given that Joni Mitchell was eclectic in her choice of music styles, on any given day I might have to use all three floors to search for her albums on CD. Her ‘Mingus’ album, one of my favourites, was downstairs in the basement, filed (correctly) under jazz; her first three albums were filed under ‘folk’, which was found upstairs and the other albums were filed under ‘pop-rock’ on the ground floor. In an ideal world, all her albums would be filed in the same place, under ‘M’.

      1. Ben Fotut

        As someone who’s never really understood the admiration Joni Mitchell seems to inspire in otherwise sane people, I feel that having to traipse through three floors of a Virgin Megastore was light punishment.

  2. Ben Fotut

    Bob’s reply took me to Wikipedia and, eventually to Pliny the Elder – who, were he a singer-songwriter, the shops in C/Tallers would presumably file under E. Apparently his is the first example of a contents list – and at the start, but seeming to function as an index which, as every fule kno, comes at the end:

    “And because the public good requires that you should be spared as much as possible from all trouble, I have subjoined to this epistle the contents of each of the following books48, and have used my best endeavours to prevent your being obliged to read them all through. And this, which was done for your benefit, will also serve the same purpose for others, so that any one may search for what he wishes, and may know where to find it.”

    Generous chap, Pliny, sparing us from having to read it all.

    And I can only agree with Bob that I’ve only ever seen the Beatles and Stones under ‘B’ and ‘R’ in British record shops. Perhaps, Wales being a foreign country and all that, they do things differently there too.

    1. marc_samida

      Ben: Wales isn’t a foreign country; the other countries are foreign. I too have never seen the Rolling Stones under S; I was trying to say that the short form ‘The Stones’ and ‘Els/Los Rollings’ could, in the case of Spain, lead to people thinking the short form was the correct for filing.
      Bob: Thanks for the feedback; been to busy to attend to it. In my defence I have to say that Guardiola was bugging me for my opinion about who he should manage next. I agree with your theory about filing, but please don’t get me going about Anglo-Saxon. That’s another bugbear, and another, earlier, blog.

  3. Ben Fotut

    Marc: so your pleading he go to Chelsea didn’t work then? To further complicate matters, how then do you file your records? And books?

    A complete non-sequitur: not sure that Jon Finch would be happy with the headline of his obit in today’s País “A taciturn British actor”.

    Bob: the last thing you want to do is get a Celt going about anglosaxonness…

    1. marc_samida

      I don’t get what you’re saying about Jon Finch. `Splain, please.

      1. Ben Fotut

        Nothing much to explain, it was a non-sequitur. Just seemed an odd headline. He presumably has other worries at the moment, though.

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