When I was a kid I was lucky enough to have two places that sold books in the town I lived in.
One was a department store, whose book section was limited but had occasional gems – like I remember vividly finding a My Naughty Little Sister bind-up in there one day and being delighted with it.
The other was a small indie bookshop that is still there to this day – Swan Books. It had a small but normally up to date children’s ‘shelf’ which I pretty much perused at every opportunity. It was also opposite the library (also still open, thankfully) so our bookshop spending generally depended on whether or not the library had what I wanted and if not whether I could pester my mum to buy it for me. (When I was about 10 she used to be decide value for money of books based on how long they were, which was really how long it would keep me engaged before I asked for another book. I would never get a thin-spined book until I had my own money to buy it!)
I think of this, as I’m hoping you have heard of the Books are My Bag campaign which kicks off this Saturday, hopefully in a bookshop near you. The campaign is to celebrate books on our high street to make sure children and adults for years to come still have the opportunity to browse a bookshop, rather than just the Internet. This isn’t a question of physical vs digital, I truly believe both can coexist – this is more a question of experience and sense of community.
A great bookshop can give you memories of that one book you discovered there and loved forever, or that great event you attended once that inspired a love of said author or subject. A great bookshop can make sure schools and teachers and school libraries stay up to date and relevant. A great bookshop can handsell local authors works to the masses, and embed itself in the community like no other shop can. A great bookshop does provide an experience you can’t replicate online. And you know how much I love online.
I will tell you one secret. When I was younger I dreamed of owning a children’s bookshop one day. With a cafe, like the fab Main Street Trading Company or an ice-cream palour like the excellent Silverdell or like my now local Newham Bookshop that really is embedded in East London schools and community. As time goes on, the dream sometime floats up again, but in moments of fear I often wonder if by the time I could have a bookshop they might no longer be able to survive. I hope with all hopes that isn’t the case, but sometimes I do worry.
So, this Saturday – check out Books are My Bag to see of if any bookshop events are happening near you, and even if there aren’t, go and find a book in a physical bookshop that you might not have been looking for, or just go and make friends with your local bookseller to see what they are up to, or what books they might recommend.
The great thing is you never know what you might find.