We almost take the idea of a bookshop or a bookstore for granted, don’t we?
I’m far too tiny to sit on a high horse or atop a mountain to deliver a moral sermon about the ill’s of big corporations. It would also make me a hypocrite; which is not okay with me even in tiny measure; as on occasion, I have indulged. Somewhere along the garden path, it became necessary to pigeon-hole one another. The truth is, we just don’t know the wonderfully colourful intricate messes of people’s lives. Why we shop or indulge as we do is simply not up for scrutiny by tiny tribalists!
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that like lots of people, I wasn’t fully aware of what being an ‘independent’ bookshop actually was. A place that sold books was obvious, even to me. But what was an independent one? You (like I did) could google it which will give you the bare bones of it-
“An independent bookstore is a retail bookstore which is independently owned. Usually, independent stores consist of only a single actual store (although there are some multi-store independents)” – c/o Wikipedia via google.
Sure, sure. It’s a non-chain sorta place… Okay…So? Who cares about the number of places? If a Waterstones is closer or an Amazon closer still if you’re the kinda person who takes your phone to the toilet with you, then surely that’s a good thing? It’s hardly going to make you traipse further afield if it’s harder to do simply because there’s only one. Why not grow out a beard, throw on a beanie and ride a vintage bicycle there on the back of the hipster bandwaggon and keep it real?
If that’s your boat, float it at will. But the magic of an independent bookshop isn’t something the irony of a google search can bring you. I’m sorry to report that there isn’t an independent bookstore in Tiny Wood. The closest one is a good few miles away so I saddled up my trusty steed and decided to make the perilous journey from dawn till, well, later that morning, and took what was to become my first step on my journey across the world, one bookshop at a time!
I could not have asked for a better induction. Aptly named, “The Book Shop“, the stories seem to seep through its tutor walls and ceilings. One of the first things worth noticing is the layout. The books aren’t laid out in alphabetical order by author or painstakingly specific genres or subject areas. There is a loose, signpost-y way the books have been arranged. Generally contemporary, classics, travel, children’s literary sections as well as an entire upper floor of secondhand gems. It isn’t that there is no organisation, its that the experience you get is a far more eclectic one. Somehow, the proprietor’s love of the content and belief in the serendipitous discovery of new worlds is inherent in the layout. You come across titles you wouldn’t otherwise have considered or even seen unless you were actually looking for them.
Speaking of the Proprietor, a one Mr John Pye is genuinely, and honest-to-God holly jolly booklover AND a booklover lover! That’s right, that’s definitely a thing. You may well expect me as a tiny bookster to stick out like a sore thumb, and you’d be right, I do. But when I walked in, I may as well have been part of the furniture. I was not given any side-eye, no pushy helpers, not followed upstairs, not asked what I’m looking for and certainly not given any hard sell. I took my sweet time familiarising myself with the place and when I was in the secondhand section upstairs, I found myself sitting on the floor surrounded by shelves of classical magic. For a moment I was the incarnation of the Matilda cover- only much older, more ethnic and far less intelligent…
After I had picked out 2 from the top and 2 from the bottom, I sat in the teashop downstairs in the entrance. There were a few local’s sat with a local councillor having a chat about local issues on neighbouring tables that was one of the friendliest political scenes I’ve seen to date! And of course, it’s the locality that beats at the heart of an independent bookshop. To believe it is a blinkered locale would be a mistake. People of different stripes were not only clearly welcome but were beautifully embraced by John. Love’s labour’s not at all lost in his refined ability to weave his individual attention to patrons either sat in a meeting, walking through the door or standing at the cashier desk whilst going about his bookselling duties. I was given a tiny-tour of the shop and its brilliant little quirks (Robert the Bruce face to join soon…). Finding we shared a career change story, I got to know about John’s nearly thirty years of building up the store. A story worth asking him about when you visit!
But John will be the first to point out that he’s not alone. He works with a small team of elves that keep things buzzing. The manager, Sarah, was not in during my visit but she was certainly paid her due credit for the work she has done to cultivate the reading community. From book clubs to author readings to the nifty lucky-dip books she so lovingly chooses, wraps and tantalises you with without saying a word! She managed that without even being there the day I went. An elixir of suspense and good sense given they’re only between £7.99 – £8.99. I picked one up for Tiny Lilac of Cross Path, Tiny Wood’s Bookworm in Residence, and she loved it. We tip our tiny hats to you, Sarah!
I did, however, get to meet Vanessa. Vanessa Vine is an endless story of activism, strength and creativity in and of herself! Other than writing on issues ranging from the social to the individual, Vanessa runs her own therapeutic essential oil business. Her open and well-informed character lead to a conversation of truly epic hotch-potchery! It was what you might call, a proper brew. In spite of the staff’s collective educational and professional backgrounds and the obviously revered place The Bookshop holds in the community, they just don’t take themselves so seriously. They’ll meet you at whatever level you’re at and take you to another to boot.
So, why pop into your local independent bookstore? For the human contact? Yes. For the knowledge? Absolutely. For the love? One hundred per cent. For the community, author and economic support and appreciation? A no-brainer! But for me, above everything else, it is because they might not save the world, but they are most definitely the gatekeepers of innumerable worlds that are worth saving.