Saturday, August 31, 2013

The importance of a good bookshop can't be underestimated

It's been quite a while since I've had the chance to browse in a half way decent bookshop, months in fact. The small remaining branch of Waterstones in Leicester is at best adequate, at worst a terrible place for a browse - it's size means that it's mostly bestsellers, books that are being pushed to be bestsellers, and 'dark romance' - in short they don't sell much to tempt me. W H Smiths is basically the same and The Works is far to hit and miss to fill the gap, that bar a few charity shops comprises the choice on my local high street. Today I went to Nottingham which has a decent sized branch of Waterstones with a satisfyingly eclectic selection of stock. It was soul food.

A couple of steps in I found the first book I could want, an hour later I had a whole new wish list and a nice new paperback. It's not that I haven't been enjoying reading recently, I've had a great time working through my Georgette Heyer stash (I noticed today that Jennifer Kloester's Biography of a Best Seller is now out in paperback) but it's a while since I've had the pleasure of picking up a new book (new to me at any rate) and been excited by it and I've missed that feeling.

When people say that amazon will be the death of the traditional bookshop I'm always doubtful and today is exactly why - I spend a reasonable amount of time on amazon just having a look at what they recommend but what they think I might like very rarely captures my imagination. I like the cheap prices, I love the wish list function, and as long as it's legal I'm basically indifferent to their tax and employment shenanigans (which is not the same as saying that I think it should be legal to dodge tax and exploit employees) but I find it a poor place to discover new things. A good bookshop on the other hand can easily persuade me too spend far to much money on a whim (oddly never regretted in the way that clothes purchases can be) and fills me with inspiration and enthusiasm. It doesn't have to be a big bookshop, there are plenty of excellent small independents out there where I never fail to find something interesting (just a pity that none of them are within my city limits) but it does need some passion behind the buying and room for the books that will probably never be best sellers but which inquiring, intelligent, readers (and me) will likely buy enough of to make stocking worthwhile.

A good book shop enriches the community it's part of, a browse round it's shelves is as invigorating as the most satisfying conversation, the internet is great for finding what I want but nowhere near as good at directing me towards the things Ion't know I might need. A shop that's filled with ideas's on the other hand is beyond perfect for that and I miss having easy access to one.  

10 comments:

  1. I thoroughly agree: I find browsing can't be beaten for just the reason you state - that I don't yet know what I need. Amazon recommendations sometimes make me laugh aloud - I think my favourite recent misinterpretation of my 'needs' was the recommendation of many many books of tragic and comic animal tales after I bought the free ebook of Sarah Macnaughtan's A Lame Dog's Diary.

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    1. When I'm a bit bored I have a look through my amazon recommends list just to laugh at it and try and work out how they come up with those suggestions. It never fails me as a means of entertainment but frequently fails as a way to find new books...

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  2. Nothing nicer than wandering round a good indie bookshop, with the caveat that I'm both very susceptible and antipathetic to cover art; won't even pick up a pastel-coloured cover with childlike writing on it....... so maybe browsing Amazon I am more concerned with reviews than the cover art.

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    1. I think I'm just the same Curzon, browsing bookshops has always been a pleasure and I really miss having a half way decent one close by.

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  3. Well put Hayley. I totally agree - I came home with 5 new books yesterday from a quick trip into town - all bought on a whim apart from Roddy Doyle's latest which I wanted.

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    1. A good afternoons work by the sound of it :)

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  4. I can recommend a good book shop not too far from you... The Melton Bookshop in Melton Mowbray. I was there visiting a friend a couple of months back and somehow, despite visiting the town for years, I'd never been in the bookshop (or even noticed it for that matther).

    However, it might be only a small local bookshop, but we spent at least 20 minutes in there. My friend picked up a couple of books for her boys and I picked up an autobiography. The shopkeeper was friendly and knowledgeable, asking what we were into and recommending books.

    They have regular bookclubs and it seems to have it's own little community in there. Well worth a visit, I'd say.

    Sadly, I live in a town where the only bookshop is a small WH Smiths. I have to take a 45 minute drive to get anywhere near a nice independant bookshop.

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  5. I've visited it and agree it's a lovely bookshop. I don't drive and Melton is about 40 mins on the bus so I don't go over there often. There's a decent bookshop in Kibworth (village on the other side of Leicester) too but it's the same thing - not close enough to visit on a whim. I love a good bookshop and mourn there passing in so many towns.

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  6. Speaking as someone who always loved browsing for books, I have to say that I love Amazon. My reading is mostly old out-of-print old stuff and often what I am reading leads me to my next book. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I haven't been able to order that book from Amazon and generally have it in a day or two, usually in great condition and for a more than reasonable price -- in fact I gotten some real steals -- a book that retails new for over $100 for less than $10. Now that my local bookseller sells more stationery and games and music and movies than actual books, Amazon is more likely to have what I'm looking for.

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    1. I love amazon, especially when I'm looking for out of print things but nothing beats a good bookshop.

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