The Modern J. R. Hartley

In the eighties the Yellow Pages had a number of TV ads in the UK showing people finally finding some elusive item by using their book to find suitable shops and ringing them. One such ad featured the now famous but fictional author J. R. Hartley searching for a copy of the book he’d written called Fly Fishing. We were never told what had happened to leave him without a copy of his own book just that eventually he found one and was happy.

Today of course Yellow Pages is still with us but the same story could be used by at least three companies. In 2020 Mr Hartley, or his daughter from the ad, would sit down in the lounge with a computer and perhaps search for local bookshops on Yellow Pages itself, or Google, then visit their websites and browse their online catalogues of old books, then perhaps ring them instead.

Alternatively he might log on to Ebay or Amazon type his name or the books and see what appears. From personal experience he’d probably have to save a search on Ebay to get the book but would no doubt get one eventually, having trawled through numerous other books on fly fishing, or containing either of the words. He could, of course, get the Kindle edition but would probably feel that it’s not quite the same, not got that old book smell and tactile sensation. J. R. Hartley would want the real thing, his book.

Strangely though, as sometimes happens, fiction became fact and although J. R. Hartley remained fictional his book didn’t, emerging in the nineties, as people started trying to get hold of a copy – to see what it was all about, into real world bookstores and eventually onto Amazon itself, where I bought a second-hand copy, and where it also now exists as a Kindle edition so it has sort of gone full circle from an imaginary book to a book that exists virtually.

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