He placed his hands in his pockets and slunk across the floor to 20th Century History to peer at spines, darting the occasional look over his shoulder to see if anyone was taking an interest in Self Help. It was a few minutes before he saw anyone so much as pause but then a woman marched into the section with purpose that announced that she would not be leaving until she had bought something.
He snatched a book off the shelf and turned around so he could watch his potential readership while looking as if he was considering buying a book on fake tanks deployed in Kent before the D-Day landings. No, he told himself firmly, not his potential readership. Potential was a pastel shade. No one notices pastel in a multicolour world. She was his future readership. Future was the bold shade he needed. Better still, she was his imminent readership, which was downright garish. Much of the book was about applying the critical difference between pastel, bold and garish to selected situations.
The woman’s hair was dyed blue, which was a good sign. This was someone who wanted to stand out and would want to be better at it. Frank’s lips moved, silently repeating, ‘imminent is garish, imminent is garish’.
The woman slid a copy of Dale Carnegie’s How to Make Friends and Influence People off the shelf and headed for the checkout.
Frank didn’t know he’d groaned aloud until the woman frowned over her shoulder.
He covered the moment by waving the book at her. “Wooden tanks. Fascinating stuff.”
The woman strode away at a faster pace, leaving Frank to wonder how she’d missed How to Stand Out. Perhaps the cover designer’s idea of placing his name in bright red over a swirl of pastel shades hadn’t been such a good idea. Looking at it from this distance, it risked going beyond garish into ostentatious which, as Chapter 14 explained in great detail with examples from the world of celebrity and politics, required a seven figure inheritance to carry off.
The more he looked at it, the more he wanted to ream his publisher out. Never mind ostentatious. Look at it for a couple of minutes and it was close to psychedelic.
A woman on her way from Maps to Gardening made a hard right turn into Self Help. She wore a nondescript brown coat and hunched her shoulders in a way that took a couple of inches off a stature that was always going to be diminutive. If she’d been any more pastel, she’d have been invisible which, now that Frank thought about it, made her more likely to be his target reader than a woman who showed she knew a thing or two about standing out by dying her hair blue. This was a woman who needed some advice on standing out, which she proved by reaching directly for How to Stand Out.
The cover must have got her attention. Perhaps the publisher knew their business after all. Frank punched the air and dropped the book about fake tanks. That definitely crossed the line into ostentatious, which he recognised a moment after the opportunity to curb the impulse had passed.
The woman didn’t spare him a glance.
Frank took his time retrieving the fake tanks, watching her back as she turned the pages. He straightened slowly and turned a few pages of his own. The book didn’t just cover wooden tanks, he noticed. There was something about canvas aeroplanes as well.
It didn’t matter.
Frank was watching an imminent reader. Any minute now, she’d take that book to the checkout and within a week, she’d be making that blue-haired woman look so pastel that she may as well have been grey.
The small woman put the book back on the shelf and turned around shaking her head. She caught Frank’s eye and shrugged. “I hope that book’s better than the one I was just looking at. I’ve never read such drivel since some Prince Unpronounceable asked me to look after his lost millions.”
On reflection, Frank decided she was better at standing out than he’d expected.