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.
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.
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.
http://www.yellow-lightedbookshop.co.uk/ in Tetbury, Cotswolds.
http://www.madhatterbooks.co.uk/ in Burford, Cotswolds.
http://samreadbooks.co.uk/ Grasmere, Cumbria.