Review: The Bookshop Book, Jen Campbell

 The Books Are My Bag campaign has been championed in many different quarters and with a fair few wild hurrahs – I myself possess approximately three of the signature tote bags thanks to being in the right place at the right time at various junctures of the London Book Fair last year.  I have had a few glances at Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops but having got the gist, I did not feel tempted to read further.  The Books Are My Bag drive attempts to fight back against the Amazonification of book-buying and the rise of the Kindle – it is no surprise to anyone that I did not need persuading about this and that is probably why I have not gotten particularly excited by the campaign.  In my case, they are preaching to the choir.  Still, spotting a copy of The Bookshop Book, I decided to take a look and see if I could learn anything new.

I think that Jen Campbell and I would get on well if we were to meet in person.  I could recognise that she gets the same giddy feeling upon entering a bookshop that I do.  She spends the book chronicling creative bookshops across the globe.  Unsurprisingly given that this is a British-based campaign, The Bookshop Book has a strong UK and Europe focus but the other continents get a decent coverage too.  I was pleased to see some of my long-term favourites get a mention – I listed my Top Ten Bookshops last year – and Broadhursts in particular is just a real joy of a place to buy books from.  But.  Hmm.

I think for me, bookshops are linked to such strong emotions.  When I was a little girl growing up in York, The Puffin Bookshop was my favourite place in the world.  Across the road was The Penguin Bookshop full of boring books of the sort that my mother might be interested in, but the Puffin Bookshop, as far as I was concerned, was where it was at.  When it closed down, I cried.  Going to a bookshop, particularly with book-buying funds in hand, made me happy.  On my year abroad when I lived in the middle of nowhere and was unspeakably lonely, The Archipel Des Mots kept me sane.  At university in St Andrews, I never forgot to check around the second-hand bookshops towards the end of the year when the leavers would sell their books (idiots).  I am a bookshop veteran.  Reading about bookshops that other people are excited about is not the same thing.  It would be different if I were going on a bookshop tour of the UK, then this would be an indispensable handbook.  But reading descriptions of places I haven’t been always feels a bit strange to me, it’s the main reason I’ve never really gotten into travel writing.

This is a real passion project, it is packed full of author interviews and ‘fun facts’ related to reading (my personal favourite is to the left) but I am both glad that Jen Campbell has written The Bookshop Book and also glad that I did not buy it myself.  I love books, the feel of them, the smell of them and how they seem different after reading compared to before even if you manage not to break the spine.  I am glad to see that love of books shared, the joy of finding new ones, the satisfaction of sharing the ones you have enjoyed with others.

The best and worst thing about bookshops is that upon entering you may find what you were not looking for, the bonus surprise books that you cannot leave the shop without.  Shops like The Works or Bargain Books don’t have it, it only comes with love and The Bookshop Book feels like a simultaneous battle cry and celebration of all those who have ever jumped up and down in delight because their friend liked the book they gave them.  Reading this made me truly believe that despite a changing world, the bookshop may be battered but it is not beaten.  I just didn’t feel like it was a read-more-than-once kind of book.

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The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell
Published by Hachette UK on October 2nd 2014
Genres: Social Science, Sociology, General, Fiction
Pages: 160
ISBN: 9781472116703

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3 thoughts on “Review: The Bookshop Book, Jen Campbell

  1. My starting point has to be have you heard of Drif Field? I’m guessing (sorry) you’re probably not old enough! He wrote guides to second-hand bookshops in a very idiosyncratic way (copies are still around, even on Amazon!)
    I’ve always liked bookshops, but have the misfortune now to live in an area where there are very few independent ones, and the one or two there are have limited (and expensive) stock. Added to that I don’t drive anymore (for health reasons) and public transport is inadequate. So for all these reasons (and a limited budget) I’m a big fan of Amazon and e-bay.
    Twenty years ago when I was working full-time, I still managed to acquire a library of around 2,000 books, of which I then lost most in a rather acrimonious divorce settlement. So my ‘new’ library has been thanks to those two companies, a couple of very good charity bookshops and a branch of Works.
    Even though the charity bookshops have impressive stocks (one sometimes even gets review and proof copies) one of my personal ‘things’ about book buying does restrict my purchases. When I read a paperback I never, never bend or crack the spine, or turn a page corner over to mark my place. All my books look as though they have not been read, so when I browse the local second-hand bookshops that is the first thing I look for. This is ends up with me having two copies of a lot of books, one to go on the shelf and one to read!
    The only down-side of this is that my to-be-read pile gets higher and higher and the amount of space to store books gets harder and harder, we have too many in boxes that should be on shelves and on display.

  2. I'm afraid that name rings no bells for me. I think there are lots of good things about Amazon – there are few books which can't be found these days because of it and often very cheaply – but I think this book was celebrating the wonder of the Bookshop. And it's true, they're exciting places to visit. Charity bookshops feel like more of a treasure trove though because you never know what you'll find. I turned up a vintage photographed copy of A Night To Remember in the French bookshop near where I lived on my year abroad – the one that was published to mark the centenary of Titanic's sinking is nowhere near as good as mine. That was a really good find. However, well loved books do tend to suffer at my hands. That being said, I don't like it when someone else batters my books. Or worse, fails to return them. But yes, I also suffer from the curse of the reader – a tottering TBR pile and limited storage space. My book buying ban is actually sticking at the moment – I think it's actually hit me that if I keep this up, there'll be no more room for me!

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