Shallow bookshelf

Thoughts on sailing books in bookshops

Book Sail

Recently, I found myself in Liverpool City Centre, a seafaring town, former City of Culture and sport focussed.  With time to spare I wandered into a famous national bookshop, ironically as you will see, with ‘water’ embodied in its’ name.

Wandering over to the Sports section to see what sailing books they had on offer.  There was much literature about soccer, rugby, cricket, golf and a wide range of popular and more obscure sports like Qi Gong. But wait, nothing under “S” for sailing or “Y” for yachting.  Strange I thought.  The Bookseller helpfully explained that sailing was “an outdoor pursuit” and found under that section. Now ‘Outdoor Pursuits’ is not even listed on the store directory but it is to be found near the ‘Travel’ section; of course!  Now you might well ask why some other sports like golf are not considered better classified under ‘Outdoor Pursuits’. Golf might be considered a park walk with occasional golf bits in the same way that sailing is just messing around in a boat in between alcoholic drinks. However, swimming, often indoors in the UK, is also listed as an ‘Outdoor Pursuit’. You can see from the attached photo of the ‘Sailing’ shelf that as well as a questionable classification the extent of the stock is unimpressive. A mere 60 cm.  Examination of the stock indicated that some of the books in the precious space were about motorcycling, kyaking and walking, about a fifth of the space taken up by books about knots and none directly concerned with dinghies. Hmm, maybe they are under “D” in the sports section.  I concluded that the new City of Culture must have taken the mantle of sailing literature being aptly named Hull.


Birmingham, my home city, is not a seafaring town although there are about 50 sailing clubs within 50 miles. It is a major city in UK terms, a popular shopping centre and worth some further investigation about the mystery of sailing literature. The city enjoys another branch of the national bookshop chain of 273 outlets; the Birmingham branch a sizeable retail space occupying five floors.  Once again, sailing was to be found in the ‘Outdoor Pursuits’ section, this time even on a different floor to ‘Sport’.  A larger sized shelf space, the numerous knots books were to found elsewhere to be replaced not by sailing how-to books but by sailing stories including multiple copies, more than any other book, of a strange story of a fabricated voyage in 1969. Yes, I can see that this is topical book much in current demand. Sailing as a sport clearly has an image problem. Does it win Olympic Medals? Clearly there must be insufficient sales (sic) to justify a decent berth. Unlike swimming, of course, where Birmingham enjoys new pools including a full sized Olympic pool at the University.  But still given very little shelf space. Diving in deeper into my research, I asked a Bookseller about swimming books available in their shop.  How might I getter better at swimming, I asked, through a decent ‘how to swim’ book.  The database revealed a paltry selection in the inventory and a book that might have fitted my fictional bill was out of stock anyway.


Clearly, the shop has a bias against sailing and possibly swimming.  What have the sailing enthusiasts done to upset the mega bookshops chain buyers?  Is there a need for better Public Relations?  Should I call the RYA?


The City enjoys another serious bookshop, and with a name like Foyles that sounded optimistic from a sailing point of view.  But it wasn’t to get any better for the image of sailing or swimming as this shop, maybe a 50th of the size of the other, gathered books on ‘Sailing, Surfing and Swimming’ into a single shelf label. At least it was under ‘Sports’. Still not a lot of practical books but again there was the presence of that strange topical tale. A friendly conversation with the Manager allowed me to expound on the virtues of how-to books to cater for the substantial footfall of travellers and shoppers to Grand Central shopping centre not to mention the fact of so many sailing clubs locally.  The Manager listened attentively and I look forward to a change in stock. That is my contribution to local sailing PR.