11 January 2016

The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell

This is an absolute joy of a book.  Not only does The Bookshop Book shine a light on bookshops you'll want to seek out on your travels it but points out how similar we book lovers are.  Apparently, no matter where bibliophiles live around the globe, we love tea, cake, the smell of a second-hand bookshop, and dream about being locked in a shop overnight.  And while so many of us would love to own a bookshop, it was surprising to me how many shops have been opened with little regard for bank balances, business experience, or long nights viewing spreadsheets focused on cost predictions.  I applaud those people and their bravery.  A small church nearby has been standing empty for quite a long time and I dream about turning it into a second-hand bookshop.  The wooden floorboards would creak, a small staircase would lead to nowhere so there could be a reading room for children underneath.  A counter would be topped with tea and a cake stand, and...this really is getting away from the book so back on track it is.

Covering three hundred bookshops across six continents this is a book you can dip in and out of or read cover to cover.  Being an Anglophile I enjoyed being back in London and picturing the shops on Charing Cross Road and Cecil Court.  On page nineteen, author Vivian French shares her love of one of my favourite shops, Persephone Books.

'Generally I'm a big fan of the Persephone classics and I actually managed to persuade three people to buy them whilst trying my hand at bookselling.  My favourite is Miss Ranskill Comes Home.  All of them are beautifully made.'

I can attest to that particular edition being an excellent read.

Books are a great source of joy and comfort but for Ellie Potten, who developed agoraphobia while in university, they proved to be a lifesaver.  Her mother left her job to care for Ellie full-time.  Through discussions on choosing a different approach to earning a living they began to dream about running a bookshop.  In 2009, when the economic climate should have frightened them, they started looking at tourist towns and real estate.  One thing led to another and in due course, Ellie was running a bookshop in the Peak District.  The shop is still open but under new management which really isn't the point.

Another favourite story from the book features a shop called Ripping Yarns situated opposite Highgate tube station,  The lineage of this shop is fascinating but the part that I loved most was about a woman who called the shop because she had seen a copy of a nature book she had owned as a child.  Her mother had sold the book at a jumble sale forty years ago and the woman wanted a copy for her grandchildren.  Days later she called the shop in tears.  The woman told the shop owner than through some miracle the book that arrived in the mail was the very copy she used to own, still bearing the inscription from her aunt.

Dotted throughout the book are pages dedicated to 'Bookish Facts' such as General Ho Chien banning Alice in Wonderland in 1931 because he thought animals talking as if they were people was offensive.  I find it slightly ironic that his name means 'dog' in French?

One of Toronto's best bookshops is called Monkey's Paw.  I've written before about the in-house Biblio-Mat that is a converted vending machine that turns out a random title when you deposit a toonie (two dollars).  

'Far and away the most notable Biblio-Mat customer is a man named Vincent Lui, who bought one book a week from the machine for all of 2013.  He read every book - and no matter what the title or subject - from cover to cover, and wrote a review of each on his blog (therandombookmachine.com).'

One of the many charming anecdotes in The Bookshop Book comes from Mongolia.  It warmed my heart and made me swoon a bit, if I'm honest, it's about the man who bought his wife a bookshop as a wedding gift.  The couple opened their shop in 2006.

A handful of years ago it seemed like every other person was buying an ereader or talking about buying one.  I would stand at the circulation counter of my library and watch a stream of people walk past carrying their device, looking for answers about downloading books.  With a 'if you can't beat them, join them' attitude we stocked different brands so customers could try each one before buying.  The list of people on hold for these devices was a long one.  While ereaders have their place and their fans, I'm pleased to see that small tsunami receding rather than picking up momentum.  The Bookshop Book is a love story for those of us who connect with paper and ink, and find comfort in shops filled with treasure...and sometimes even a cat or two.

I'll give the last work to a bookshop owner in Singapore...'I am the Joker that says, 'Bring it on!'.  As a tech-driven country, we are well-known to be early adopters when it comes to new tech gadgets.....'So, yes, if it helps to increase the readership numbers, let's get them hooked on reading first, and we, these magical creatures called booksellers, we will stealthily convert them into print-lovers, too.' 

Hear, hear!

Avril English, mother-in-law of Biblio-Mat inventor Craig Small


  1. I can just see you behind the counter of Cosy Books ... oh, Darlene, you really must look into it and at least discover what the rent would be! What a perfect job for you.
    You'll shoot me,but in the early 80s I was living just around the corner from Ripping Yarns. I have the haziest recollection of a rather dilapidated row of shops and can't remember ever going in. But it wasn't a time in my life when I was reading much, and I don't suppose it was ever open as I went to and from work.

    1. The church is within view of my turn towards home so I laughed when I saw it after work yesterday. A phone call is going to have to be made...but R has asked me not to do anything crazy.
      The description of the area sounds about right according to the shop's owner. Oh the stories you could tell, Mary...

  2. Life has driven me back to the small village in Dordogne (France)where my family has a house, and at some point I tried to help the newsagent to promote a small section of his shop into a small bookshop. Iwrote and edited and published a newsletter, wrote reviews, even sold some books. The owner has changed and it is a lady now who does not want any help. The shop is mainly empty except for selling lottery tickets and newspapers and magazines. A pity. So if you can have your own bookshop, do it: it is so interesting for the bookseller who loves books! Oe comment though: in France, there are no tea and cakes in bookshops; there are only books! And the French would prefer coffee to tea. Ihad both to offer during my short experience, but Mother's family is partly British and I am an Anglomaniac! :)

    1. A pity, indeed, but you made a difference for as long as you could, Camille. There must be so many people who miss the service and it's a bit shortsighted of the new owner...more reasons to visit the shop means more customers.
      I'm an Anglomaniac as well, you're in good company if I do say so myself!

  3. I enjoyed that book a lot, and liked the idea of the Book Barge.

    The that the World's Biggest Bookstore, at Yonge and Dundas, is gone, I really have to make a point of visiting the Worls' Smallest Bookstore, near Kinmount, since it's a short drive from our cottage and I've never gone there.

    Susan D

    1. I'm looking forward to visiting Word on the Water on my next trip to London...such a fabulous concept.
      Just had a peek at the shop via a blogger's post...it's rather charming. You can't lose, Susan!

  4. This sounds lovely, Darlene. Really looking forward to reading it (library hold has already been placed).

    1. Wonderful! I think this book will be a perfect fit for your reading mood, Claire. Hope your hold arrives soon!

  5. This one goes straight on my tbr pile. Thank you for your joyous review.