Reading books, the whole blog is about books. Organising books, I’ve blogged about that too. And about decluttering books. And about publishing our own book. But I haven’t yet blogged about buying books. So here goes.
Second Hand Bookshops
I love exploring these. I get tempted by the old orange penguin books (which must be why I have got two copies of Mr Weston’s Good Wine by TF Powys. Some people would argue that you can’t have too many copies of Mr Weston’s Good Wine. And indeed it is a very intriguing and original book.) I love picking up copies of books I should have read but have passed me by, or even books that I read from the library and now want my own copy.
I like the idea that other people have read them, although I recently came across a reference to baking books from Boots Circulating Library in the oven to remove ‘other people’s germs’. And sometimes I find bookmarks between the pages, or pencil notes in the margins indicating someone else’s interest.
Occasionally I buy second hand books on-line, but this is not as enjoyable as browsing through the shelves of the local Oxfam shop. The chief attraction of second hand books is the serendipity, finding that book. I found several novels by Elizabeth Bowen in this way, and my copy of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock was (to coin a quite dreadful phrase) pre-read. It also means I sometimes obtain a copy of a book I think I really should have, only to get it home and find I went through the same process about 3 months previously. There is the second copy already on the shelves!
I make contributions to these second hand bookstores as well. It’s part of helping books go round.
How bookshops have changed. For a start there are fewer of them (fewer than 1000 independent shops in the UK). So it is a rare treat now to come across an independent book shop, reflecting the individuality of the owner. Perhaps a cat lives among the shelves, or a dog guards the till. There may be a jug of flowers on the table. A chair invites you to linger, perhaps by an open fire. A local author has signed five copies of his book and they are waiting to be bought, by the till. There are maps and local walks, railway histories, an intriguing selection of fiction and that category called gift books.
The second thing that’s changed is the pricing. Who pays full price for books these days? It seems that books are marketed like pork pies or crumpets, as if one book is the same as any other. The principal idea is BOGOFF (Buy one and get one for free). And you can buy them in supermarkets along with your pork pies and crumpets. Chain bookshops blast you with offers, or the apparent attraction of being newly published, or that they are recommended by the staff. This last I do find interesting, although rarely decisive.
And then, of course, there is Amazon. Loved that they made it possible to buy any book, and quickly. Hate that Amazon is taking over the world. I don’t believe that Amazon acts in the best interests of authors, publishers or readers.
When I buy on-line I go first to Hive, still discounted, still free postage and in some mysterious way, supporting local independent bookshops.
But my ideal book buying experience is without stress. The shop feels domestic, cosy but full of possibilities. The shelves are interesting, inviting, categories easy to find, and the staff knowledgeable and opinionated. It is an independent bookshop.
In 2014 Dulwich Books was awarded the title Independent Bookshop of the year in the Bookseller Awards, Children’s Bookseller of the Year was The Edinburgh Bookshop.
Persephone Book Shop, Lambs Conduit Street, London
Last week I visited a bookshop that I love. Persephone Books sell their own books, those lovely dovegrey volumes by (mainly) women, books that need publishing. Books such as these, reviewed on this blog:
- Mrs Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphon Todd
- The Squire by Enid Bagnold
- Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple – in the Older Women in Fiction series.
They are objects of aesthetic pleasure, chosen with great good taste. And they offer 3 for £30, or £12 each. This week I bought
- The Happy Tree by Rosalind Murray
- A Writer’s Diary: being extracts from the diary of Virginia Woolf
- No Surrender by Constance Maud
The pleasure of buying new books is enhanced by the domestic feel of the interior, the wooden furniture, cushions and fabric for sale (echoing Persephone’s trademark end papers and bookmarks, chosen from fabric designs contemporaneous with the contents of the book).
On the day I am there, as on previous occasions, office activities (such as receiving orders, enquiries about the Persephone Biennial Catalogue, payment issues) go on in the back of the shop.
Visiting Persephone Books reminds me of the importance of independent publishers, of the pleasures of buying books in nice shops and that I am not alone in wanting to go on visiting bookshops. (You can order their books online through the website as well as signing up for the daily Persephone Post, a visual treat).
Visiting Persephone Books reminds me that I am part of a community of readers.
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