June 30, 2014

Keeping Books Alive

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They say you’re meant to shake up your commute every so often so it doesn’t kill you or turn you into a character out of the movie iRobot. It’s good to have a “change” apparently so that you can be more “creative” in your thought patterns, apparently. Blah blah blah. But really: it does make sense. Otherwise you will no doubt start to feel like you are part of a slow-moving herd of cattle, moving from one destination to the next. Day in, day out. 

Anyway, I did take a different route home and it was actually really worthwhile. I stumbled across literally the coolest little second-hand bookshop. Full of amazing librarians who I spoke to about all sorts of things, who pointed me to old classics that will “change my life”.

People get quite deep in bookshops I’ve realised. On the way in I overheard two older ladies (must have been in their 80s) chatting over by the Poetry & Arts section: “no Dora, I think that when you die, you just die. Lights out, bam. I used to think differently but really I can’t be doing with any of this after-life twaddle.”

I’m not going to tell you the book shop’s name. Not because I don’t want you to find it – quite the opposite – but I want you to stumble across it. It’s on a main street in central London but it’s often ignored. People stomp past it every day. It’s rarely looked upon, noticed, paused at. It’s there. It’s there absolutely brimming with character, amazing people inside, stories, information, covers that won’t be printed ever again. None of these books are in any executives “marketing strategies” by the Amazons or the Waterstones of the world, but the books in there are old, wise, interesting, yet forgotten – and they just want to be read. One of the books I bought is called “Thinking Like A Woman” by Leah Fritz, in New York, 1975.

It’s blurb says “She is an honest, uncompromising, moving voice on feminist revolution. Leah Fritz is one of the many shapers of the feminist vision which is beginning to change the lives of us all.” The book is written for “Howard, who describes himself as a male chauvinist guinea pig”.

“Nuff said. I needed this book in my life. And for 75p I almost feel like I cheated.

Bookshops are always romanticised. In Notting Hill, where Hugh Grant works, with his pal that wears the cardigan. That romanticised notion of doorbell zinging when customers come in and everyone has a jolly old time leafing through pages of books. And like that famous scene in Atonement, when Keira Knightley gets frisky in the green dress. There were those old stepladders that enable you to swing from bookcase-to-bookcase (like in Beauty in the Beast, you know the ones) and some books had ACTUAL dust on them. It was magical. 

There is something so comforting about being surrounded by mountains of books. Nothings tidy. They’re on the floor. They’re tatty.

Books are just little brains. It’s like being surrounded by people who just want a chat, except it’s a case of picking up lots of people of paper all bound together and just diving in.

There were three floors of this bookshop, and the deeper down the spiral staircases I got, the more lost I became and sort of disappeared for an hour into another space entirely. 

It made me think: the Internet has made me appreciate physical books so much more. The Internet, of course, is fantastic in lots of ways. But being “lost” in blogs and websites is so hideously unromantic. Curling up in a bookshop, surrounded by polite people (people in bookshops are SO polite, don’t you find?) and leafing through printed pages is so much more fulfilling. It’s the fact that these books have a history, a story beyond the “story” inside, it has been in other people’s homes, hands, minds, before it got to yours. 

I read Lucy Mangan’s piece in Stylist last week, her confession on being a Kindle owner. I love my Kindle, but it’s a tool for convenience. It’s a way to carry around numerous books and blogs so that I can read on the move, on a long flight, on the beach, etcera. Recently I’ve been over-spending on books because I’ll buy on my Kindle and then if I feel really passionately about it I’ll buy the paperback version too.

I feel like if I don’t have a physical copy of a book then it doesn’t exist. Plus books are for sharing. Books are for passing down and leaving for people. I have books I want to give my nieces and nephews, and one day, maybe my own future children.

Books are for putting your name in the corner and giving it to a friend or relative and saying “please read this, and discuss it with me afterwards”. 

So in short, I do recommend taking a different route home. You can discover new things in a place that you might walk past every day. And just stopping for a minute. And I hope everyone finds this bookshop. 

  • I have a Kindle too, which as a book blogger I feel a little guilty admitting too. But, as you do, I’ll buy a paperback version of any book I love.

    I want to know where this bookshop is now!

  • I love going to little old book stores and antique shops. There’s something magical about wandering among well-loved books and book lovers. And I really want to take a trip to London and find this little bookstore! Great post! 🙂

  • Beautifully written piece! I want to find this shop now. And that’s probably one of the best book dedications (for Howard) that I’ve ever come across! I have a Kindle too but to be honest after a month of owning it, I’ve downloaded one book and read one page…I’m too in love with real books to even venture over to the digital side for convenience’s sake!

  • I agree with so much of this! I also own a kindle, and am an avid collector of the physical copies, too! I’ve noticed that I find it hard to get back into paper copy books, too, and I’m too used to the sometimes low quality of writing you can get from free/cheap kindle books, as well as websites online that people can post stories on.
    But the thing i love about real books is seeing them on my shelf, and being able to pick them up, rifle to your favourite page, feel the paper, etc. They’re so tangible; as opposed to kindles, where I think I have something like 500 books and I have no real connection with any of them.

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