IBW2021: Melanie Golding on the sweet smell of bookshops

To celebrate Independent Bookshop Week Melanie Golding, author of Little Darlings, shares her love of bookshops, specifically the smell we all wish could be bottled.

The Sweet Smell of Bookshops

There was no bookshop in the village where I grew up. Although there were plenty of books in my parent’s house it was unclear where precisely they came from. We would visit the library, which was situated in a small prefab classroom-type building behind the village hall, where I would scour the shelves for books by Ian Livingstone and Robert Westall. I would like to think my young self would choose a Point Horror over a Sweet Valley High, but the truth is I read them both. Books were friends to me, as a child, like they are for so many authors. Of course, they still are.

My first visit to an actual bookshop was in my late teens. The smell of the place, all of that new paper, the embossed covers, stacks of discovery, piles of adventure. I can still remember almost being overwhelmed. Walking through the shop, touching books, turning them over, deciding which to spend my hard-earned teenage cash on. Books or beer? Of course there was no contest.

The city was an hour’s bus journey away, so buying books was a rare treat. Just like with music, some books were ‘cool’ and some were not. My boyfriend at the time was obsessed by cult books such as The Dice Man, Trainspotting, Fight Club and The Wasp Factory. Dark, clever books I was only too happy to borrow, though I was also secretly reading everything by Sue Townsend, Alice Walker, Roddy Doyle, Helen Fielding and Terry Pratchett, among others. The only difference seemed to be that you could turn up to a house party with a copy of Rhinehart’s book but if you rocked up with Bridget Jones in your pocket people might firstly laugh, and then try to use the pages as cigarette papers (which actually happened to me). Just writing that down, I’m realising I ran with a rather odd crowd.

These days I’m spoilt for choice. I live in an area with two wonderful independent bookshops, Stroud Bookshop and The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop. These are the only shops where, every time we go, I tell my children they can choose something. Anything they like.

Part of me thinks I shouldn’t let on how pleased I am that they read, or they might decide it’s not cool and give it up. Thinking of my own development as a reader, I realise I don’t need to worry. Reading is beyond cool, beyond image. It’s not like the latest trainers, or a branded t-shirt. It is an escape, a release; it entertains, transports, educates and informs. Reading is an act of rebellion, or a secret pleasure. I would be proud if they started to hide it from me, their embarrassing parent. So, I’ll carry on taking them to bookshops. Breathing in that new-book smell, letting them choose whatever they like, while I do the same.

Read the rest of the IBW2021 series here.

Buy your copy of Little Darlings in your local bookshop or at bookshop.org

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