To celebrate Independent Bookshop week, Louise Hare, author of This Lovely City, reflects on her childhood memories of bookshop escapes and the wonder of bookshops in a post-lockdown world.
Bookshops are gateways to myriad worlds
When I was a kid, I spent all my pocket money on books. Every Saturday my mum took me to the bookshop overlooking the old fish market in Warrington town centre (long since replaced by a coffee shop) and I was allowed to choose one book. But how do you choose just one when there are so many? I remember pulling out four or five and sitting on the floor, re-reading the blurbs to try and decide which was the one I couldn’t live without for the next week.
Bookshops, along with libraries, were my gateway to myriad worlds. I loved visiting the changing worlds of Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree, visited Anastasia Krupnik in New York years before I set foot on US soil and re-read Marianne Dreams over and over until the pages fell out. When my favourite bookshop closed down, I was lucky that there was another independent bookshop just a few streets away but that too disappeared, almost twenty years ago, as the internet became a place where you could buy just about anything.
The personal touch
Before the pandemic I worked in the travel industry. Similar to bookshops, the local travel agency has long been declared dead. Why pay a penny more for a holiday/book that you can buy online? There are several reasons: you can’t get expert recommendations from a web page; you don’t always receive what you thought you were getting; what happens when they don’t have what you want? But the most obvious is people. And after a year of isolation don’t we all have a new appreciation for being able to stand in front of a person who wants the same as you – to have a conversation about something you both love?
You can’t chat with a website about what you thought about the last book you read. Sometimes the algorithm might make a suggestion based on past purchases but, especially when you don’t shop exclusively for yourself, it can’t tell you why you should love this new book by this author you might not have heard of before. I know that for me and my fellow 2020 debuts, when bookshops were closed it made it difficult for readers to find us. They couldn’t walk into their local bookshop and have our books pressed into their hands by booksellers who loved what we’d written and wanted to pass our words on.
Open and thriving
I’m so happy that our bookshops are back open and thriving. One of my first trips when lockdown lifted was to BookBar in north London. It’s not even that local to where I live, but the idea of a new bookshop opening during the dark days of this winter felt so incredibly inspiring (also they serve wine). Over the past year I’ve felt so much support from various indie bookshops – with a special shoutout to Max Minerva’s and Sevenoaks Bookshop in particular. Thank you all and I hope to repay your kindness one day.