It’s Independent Booksellers Week this week. A week dedicated to quirky booksellers everywhere: that man in a baggy cardigan with elbow patches, that woman with a pince-nez on a chain and an old-fashioned bicycle who talks to her cats (oh, that’s me – well it would be if Specsavers could be persuaded to stock pince-nez), the children’s bookseller who holds regular reading groups and even those who look perfectly normal but harbour a deep, dark secret. They love to read and want you to love it too. All round the country bookshops will be holding events and readings, hanging up the bunting and breaking out the cake, banging the drum and blowing the bugles all to remind you, the shopper, that independent is best.
Don’t go into that soulless chain, go into an independent bookshop instead: a picture perfect children’s bookshop, a gardening bookshop, a cookbook shop where they cook from the books or the beautiful Persephone Books in Lamb’s Conduit Street (see? doesn’t even the address sound interesting?) which specialises in 20th century women’s writing and where all the books are bound in silver grey with endpapers taken from old fabric designs chosen to match the mood of the book.
The staff love the books – trust me, you don’t work in a bookshop for the money and glory. We know what we have and can find it if you ask and best of all we can recommend other things you may like and introduce you to a new author you don’t know yet.
Around Kew and Richmond we have some lovely bookshops. How many do you know? A quiz – what larks! Let’s start with the one here in The National Archives, a little treasure trove of books hysterical and historical (or is that just the staff? For many Black Books was an amusing sitcom, for us it is a training video…). We have history books galore: new releases, classics, a vast array of guides to help you find your way in the forest of genealogical research and a healthy pile of special offers for those that can’t resist a bargain.
Totter out from us (with bursting bags I hope) and just beside Kew Gardens Station there is the Kew Bookshop – every shelf bulging with great novels, a well chosen cookbook section and travel guides to transport you anywhere you dream of visiting. In Richmond pop by The Open Book in King Street, a veritable literary Tardis with the most amazing collection of books on the borough, or The Lion and Unicorn for a fabulous children’s collection perfect for indoctrinating the next generation of readers. All of these deserve a visit.
Tragically the independent bookshop is an endangered species. So this week above all others go out of your way to support your local bookshop.
Remember when the supermarkets were taking over and the independent food shops were closing at a rate of knots? When everyone said why would you shop anywhere else? It’s cheaper, they have everything you need, you can park onsite and you get loyalty points? Now, not to be on first name terms with your independent butcher and receiving Christmas cards from your local fishmonger is considered infra dig. Think food provenance. And those loyalty cards are just covert surveillance you know. Do you really want Mr Tesco to know you better than your best friend (well possibly- it depends on what you are buying at Tesco)?
Anyway, I believe that the same will happen to independent bookshops – they may be closing now as customers are drawn to the flashy convenience and low prices of online megaliths but bookshops will return as shoppers find they miss the opportunity to thumb paper whilst browsing the books, to talk to people who read and share passions and enthusiasms and the joyful serendipity of finding something new and unexpected in a dusty corner rather than plugging keywords into a search engine. We are a nation of shopkeepers after all. Bookshops will rise again. It will come, so be part of the vanguard and go into that bookshop this week.
For more book chat, join Sally in The National Archives’ book club.