Recently, the Books Are My Bag campaign gained pace. The debate concerning ebooks versus print media is a long and very dull one but between that, Amazon and the tragic demise of the Net Book agreement, things have been becoming very difficult for the poor old bookshop. Waterstone’s is trying desperately to claw back into profit with would-be confident pronouncements about how ebooks are on the decline but … I am not so sure. The idea of a world without bookshops makes me feel more than sad, rather panicky in fact. Bookshops are where I go to convene with the reading spirits, I tend to leave with a similar kind of spiritual high to the one achieved after a really good sermon at church. Bookshops are soothing places, beautiful places, buildings of joy and contentment. Since the Broke and Bookish are focussing on ‘blogging confessions’ this week, I decided to celebrate bookshops instead. My favourites are listed below …
Broadhursts is my first, my last, my everything. I have actually celebrated them before because I was amazed that they were willing to give me free books for my old class. That was before I had realised just how many free books came with being a blogger of course. The staff here are incredibly lovely and whenever you buy a book, it gets wrapped up in brown paper just for the excitement factor. And then upstairs there’s the children’s room – when I was about sixteen, I once had a twenty minute long consultation with a bookseller up there while I sought advice which book would best suit my cousin. It’s just a very warm, very friendly place to shop.
A very, very dear friend of mine lived in West Hampstead until about a week ago. Her flat has very much been my bolt-hole for the past two years and one of the great things about it (aside from the very lovely and generous people she lived with) was that it justified a trip to the West End Lane Bookshop. I have found so many quirky books in there that I had never heard of before – Fifty Shades of Feminism, The Woman Reader – and on several occasions, they have also handed out cake! It’s amazing.
This one I will travel for. There are Blackwells elsewhere but for me, this one is special. Firstly, it’s huge. Secondly, the staff are very helpful when one is looking for something obscure. Plus, it does actually have a lot of very obscure stuff because they’re covering the University of Edinburgh’s course materials. It also has a lot of comfortable sofas if you really want to do your research before you buy.
I’ve only ever bought one book from the gift shop but I’ve decided that that counts. St Martin’s in the Fields is one of my favourite places in London. Sitting in the crypt cafe enjoying the very reasonably priced soup and hot dessert deal is a very nice way to spend your afternoon and if you’re wandering London solo, it is also an excellent place to settle in for a read. St Martin’s is one of my happy places and I do associate it very strongly with reading.
Beckside Books, Penrith
I discovered Beckside Books last summer while on holiday with my best friend. It’s a second hand book-shop and oh. Oh. It’s incredible. They have everything that you could possibly conceive of – foreign language, history, biography, crime, vintage – it’s all under one roof. I remember turning to my friend in a slightly dazed way after a few minutes and saying, “I think I’m having a spiritual experience.” I came away with three heaving bags, including most of the collected works of Ellis Peters and an enormous feeling of contentment.
Cogito Books, Hexham, Northumberland
Slightly strange that I’m recommending this one as I’ve never actually visited it myself. My parents travel up to this area every year for one of their anniversaries and my mother always buys big and raves about what it has to offer. So, over the years I have had quite a large number of books gifted to me based on the staff recommendations, as well borrowing an even larger number from my mother’s own collection. I have to say, I have never yet read a Cogito book that was anything less than a four star book. They know their stuff.
Bookends, Bangor Northern Ireland
This is another fantastic second hand bookshop. It’s absolutely huge, the range is terrific and everything is cheaply priced. They market themselves as the ‘best second-hand bookshop you’ve ever been in’ and it’s clear that they take their motto to heart. Very much worth the visit.
Waterstone’s, Gower Street, London
People get cross with Waterstone’s for steam-rollering the UK book market but I think it really depends on your branch. In Summer 2010, I was working for a summer school based near Tottenham Court Road and I discovered the Gower Street branch. It is brilliant – beyond brilliant. It has a lovely cafe, second-hand section as well as a huge and very comprehensive history section. It is Europe’s largest academic bookshop, so it’s not surprising that it’s so huge. Still, this is the branch that made me fall in love with Waterstone’s again. It also kept me sane while working in a job in a residential capacity.
L’Archipel Des Mots, Gex, France
This was the local bookshop while I was on my year abroad. Gex has a very transient population and people are often moving on, meaning that they often off-load their books. Enter Girl with her Head in a Book. Because of the vast English speaking population, there’s a fairly hefty amount of English books in there which again was a real life-saver when you’re barely twenty and don’t speak a lot of French yet. It also has a cafe attached and as a twice weekly treat I used to stop in for a hot chocolate and a good long read of my latest Asterix. By the end of the year the owners knew me well enough to let me buy a first-edition of Asterix chez les Bretons (Asterix in Britain) for ten euros when it was actually worth thirty. For which I thank them. And I also thank their small child who gave me a very chocolaty good bye kiss.
The Basildon Free Book Project, Basildon
I have mentioned my obsession with the Books for Free movement before. I still think that it is slightly insane. You walk in. You look for some books that you want. You find them. You walk out again. No cash necessary. It has meant that I now feel vaguely resentful when called upon to pay money for fiction. Things do show up there eventually. Over the past two years, I have probably picked up around two hundred books from them. Two. Hundred. Cue Twilight Zone music. Last week, I went in, went to ask for some plastic bags so I could carry my twelve books home again and the lady at the desk asked me kindly, “How long will these last you?” I could only reply with the truth, “Not long, not long.”