My relationship with bookshops got off to a bad start. My dad used to take me and my brother shopping when we were very small, and his idea of shopping involved forgetting to buy any food, but going into every second-hand bookshop that we passed. He’d spend several days in there (I’m sure this recollection is right), leaving us to wander ferally around the aisles while he was presumably transported back to a glorious time before he had children. My brother and I developed something of a bookshop phobia and used to plot ways to get our dad to go on routes which didn’t pass any. (This was rendered possible by his complete lack of any sense of direction.)
As I got older (and didn’t have to go shopping with my dad anymore) I started to understand the irresistible pull of the bookshop. The idea of thousands of doorways leading into magical worlds laid out in front of you. The exquisite difficulty of choosing, and not buying EVERYTHING. The possibility these days of coffee AND CAKE. All our childhood objections would have evaporated in the face of cake.
Like in all the best rom-coms, my initial antipathy eventually blossomed into a full-on passionate love affair with bookshops. These are some of my favourites:
The marvellous Scarthin Books
One of the best bookshops in the world according to The Guardian, this is just a couple of miles away from me. Tens of thousands of books, both new and second-hand, fill a tiny Georgian building overlooking a glistening duck pond. The staff at Scarthin are very supportive, including when I once did a reading on the first hot weekend of the year and only four people turned up (and one of these was my dog). They serve coffee and great veggie food, and you can eat on lovely little terrace surrounded by flowers. This shop also has a drawer just under the till that sometimes contains a sleeping cat.
High Peak Bookstore
Another great supporter of local authors and has a huge selection of discounted books that makes me quite over-excited even though I already have more books than one person could possibly read in a lifetime. The dog is very welcome and always makes friends, plus they have a café with great cakes (including vegan). Cake is a big motivator for me.
Although it’s not local to me, I love Village Books in Dulwich. They are fabulously enthusiastic about books they like, and they even welcome dogs with treats.
I’m also blessed with my local Waterstones shops, and the window display that Waterstones Derby did for my debut made me happier than almost anything I can remember. (Even though there is a white house opposite the shop that has a kind of ghostly power such that any photograph of books in the window turns into a photograph of the reflection of THE WHITE HOUSE. It’s uncanny.)
Waterstones Nottingham, West Bridgford, Chesterfield, Sheffield and Meadowhall
These are also all fantastic shops! You can tell the staff really love books and take pleasure in recommending them to people. In Meadowhall, I popped in with a friend and offered to sign the one copy they had of my book. This prompted one of the staff members to take the book home and read it, and then the next time I went there, I found a whole table-load. This kind of thing often happens in Waterstones and warms my heart.
So, after an inauspicious start, there is now nothing I’d rather do than spend time foraging in a bookshop, meeting other booklovers, chatting about books, and almost certainly eating some cake. Hurray for bookshops!
Huge thanks to Roz Watkins for sharing her thoughts on bookshops! Her latest DI Meg Dalton crime thriller Cut to the Bone is out in paperback April 29th.