Saturday, 9 March 2013

A New Leaf - Supporting our Independent Book Shops.

I know, you're already expecting me to climb on my high horse to deliver a bit of a preach, eh? Well you'd be right, although I am not going to rant. I would prefer to inspire you rather than tell you off. 

My thoughts and actions regarding buying books have been a bit mixed and unreliable in the last few years, I must admit. Obviously, I love to buy books. I love to buy as many as I am allowed. And yes, they are almost always children's books. Because most of the best books in the published world are aimed at children, IMHO. I buy picture books to gaze at the gorgeous and hugely varying artwork, and to be inspired by other artists' use of colour, shadow, perspective, characterisation, the lot. And I buy junior or teen fiction to enjoy the wonderful, absorbing stories that have been weaved together by rather inventive clever people.

And where do I buy these little gems. Well (GULP, blush) ... Amazon. Yes, I know. 

I am ashamed to confess how much I have relied upon the internet to provide me with my book choices. I have been completely swayed by the temptation of cheap, fast books. And sometimes, they are CRAZILY cheap. I think everyone knows that you rarely have to pay the RRP online. You feel you are almost getting something for nothing, especially with free postage. The discount is ridiculous. 

But, on a recent holiday, I was given a wakeup call. Not by anyone in particular, just my realisation of my own actions. 

We discovered the many delights of St Ives in Cornwall, and among the cobbled streets we found a truly delicious book shop. It is the St Ives Bookseller and is a very very good example of what a proper, independent bookshop should be. It is not huge but for its square footage it packs in an impressive array of books in all genres, displayed beautifully, clearly and enticingly.

Who wouldn't want to delve into this table top display?

None of the "stack 'em high" mentality of chain bookstores. I love the fact that in most cases, there was only one copy of each title on the shelves. A few bestsellers were piled with a face-out copy on top, but it was not overdone. It meant that each book looks special and rare; a treasure waiting to be discovered. 

The reward of visiting a real bookshop instead of clicking around on the internet, is that you will discover more intriguing books because they are all right there, literally at your fingertips. Although online it is easy to search by title and author if you are looking for something specific, you could never get a successful result by typing in, for example, "something whimsical and sweet" or "a new illustrator I've never yet encountered but who could be totally awesome."  But take a few moments to peruse the books on the shelves in a bookshop and you will be in constant delight at the discoveries you will make.

This visit reminded me of another holiday, a couple of years ago, in the Wye Valley, when we found a very lovely bookshop in Ross on Wye called Rossiter Books.

It was right in the centre of a gorgeous town, close to the old Corn Exchange, and the shop was filled with light and lined with beautiful books. I bought a brand new shiny book of poems and as I carried it along in its crisp paper bag I felt very rich. The time in the shop, browsing and picking up interesting possibilities, was both relaxing and riveting. You may think you are aware of all the lastest books but until you walk into a real, live shop you are living only a half-life in the world of books. Despite working in a library and having an avid interest in books I was ashamed at all I had missed by not going into bookshops often. Bookshops are still THE best place to discover new books. I know you can read books for free from a library, or you can download them cheaply onto ereaders and order them for a pittance to arrive at your door. But if this is all you ever do, you will be the poorer for it. When you are thinking of giving a book as a present, please rethink your habits and make the effort to go and buy one in a lovely bookshop. If you don't have one in your town, when you are off on an excursion or on holiday, consider buying something for a present later in the year. I love having gifts squirreled away.

You would be right to think I'm in Cloud Cuckoo Land if I was to suggest that everyone just ALWAYS buys ALL their books from bookshops instead of the internet. I don't think any of us have the budgets to buy full price books willy nillly, any day of the week. But I do believe we ALL have the responsibilty to keep shops open that we would be sorry to lose. Make a compromise, buy from an Indie shop every now and then, build it into your budget if it helps. I know I can't go and blow all our earnings on a hundred books every month but I do know that I can make a considered choice on a book or two every now and then. And although I may have a hefty wishlist on Amazon, perhaps I can just keep that as predominantly an online notebook, to remind me of what I'd like to buy when I can, from a bookshop. Perhaps I could ask family and friends, if they want to buy me a book for my birthday or for Christmas, that instead of buying me a whole heap cheaply, maybe one or two that are a bit more pricey. Because, to be frank, where did we all get this idea that we can have whatever we want, whenever we want it, at no price to ourselves. Yes, it costs to purchase things from an independent store. But if we don't buy there, the cost to the nation, the cost to our city or town, is that there is no bookshop there in the future. If regret it then and wish it was there, that'll be too late. The time to support them is now. Not on your own, obviously. Spread the word. Everyone can afford to buy independently, sometimes. Please, don't let them all disappear.

If you have an independent bookshop in your town, you are very blessed. Many towns do not. I don't have one nearby, so these holiday shopping sprees are even more special. 

This gorgeous shop in Grasmere is another example of perfection - Sam Read Books.

When you consider the price of a book and think it's not worth it, do think about what goes into each neat and perfectly trimmed book you see on the shelves. The time and efforts of the author and illustrator to create it in the first place, the countless hours of their editorial team to perfect it, the marketing team who work tirelessly to get the book known, not to mention the cost of their materials and advertising, the designers and printers, the distributors, and finally the brave and risk-taking bookseller who puts it on their shelf in the anticipation that someone is going to want to read it. Someone who is willing to pay a little more for a piece of art that will be theirs forever. Will that someone be you? I hope that, every now and then, it will be. 

Enjoy browsing. :)

Here are a few other lovely independent Bookshops I have come across in my travels. If you are ever pootling round England in need of a book, bear them in mind. in Burford, Cotswolds. Grasmere, Cumbria.

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