Friday, March 04, 2016

Booknote: The Bookshop Book

Jen Campbell, The Bookshop Book. London: Constable and Robinson, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-47211-666-6.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: books and reading, bibliophiles, travel
Format: hardcover
Source: Hutchins Library, Berea College


This was a good read. I will admit I read most of it, and I did skim a few parts as some parts of the book were more interesting than others. I am always up for reading books about books and reading, and this fit the bill nicely. In essence, the book is a sort of list or directory of special or unique bookstores around the world. Some regions do have more bookshops and are better represented than others. Europe is extremely well represented, so is North America, the rest of the world not so much.

The book offers as way of introduction a small history on the world of books, which serves to set up the rest of the book. The rest of the book then covers "bookshops around the world & thoughts from those who love them." In the directory section, the following areas are covered:

  • Europe
  • Africa
  • North America
  • Central and South America
  • Australasia
  • Asia
For access purposes, the book features an index of bookshops and another index of people.

The author has worked for seven years in bookshops in England and Scotland; this may explain some of the heavier emphasis on those countries and Europe. It's what the author really knows. Bookshops featured in the book are usually independent, often second-hand and/or antiquarian. Many of them are the kind of places I would love to just lose myself in for a while. Each bookstore gets an entry which can vary in length from a paragraph to various pages. This does mean that you learn a lot about some places and very little about others. Also, each regional section features "Bookish Facts" and "Some Wonderful Things," which are boxes with book trivia and lore. Additionally, there are also sections of chats with authors, mainly literary type authors, who give their thoughts on bookshops and their reading experiences.

Overall, this was an enjoyable book. For bibliophiles, this would be a comfort read. Armchair travelers who enjoy books and reading will likely enjoy this book as well. In the end, it's one I really liked.

4 out 5 stars.

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Some additional reading notes:

The author's motivation for the book:

"Stories connect people: I want to share the stories of three hundred wonderful bookshops across six continents, and thoughts from famous authors about their favourite bookshops, too. These days, we've got booksellers in cities, in deserts, and in the middle of a rain forest; we've got travelling bookshops, and bookshops underground. We've got bookshops in barns, in caravans, and in converted Victorian railway stations. We've even got booksellers selling books in the middle of a war" (xiv). 

Ian Rankin on why bookshops are important. His sentiment is one I agree with:

"As a reader, I think bookshops are important because nothing beats the experience of browsing. You cannot replicate it online. In a well-run bookshop you are always going to find something that you want to read. If not, hopefully you can chat with the bookseller and they will tell you about something you didn't know existed.  You get that personal recommendation.  You build up a relationship" (16). 

You know what other place also can offer good browsing and has knowledgeable people when it comes to books? Your local public library, and contrary to some of the newer librarians who think of exclusively online technotopias, many readers want and seek out books. But I digress.

Ali Smith on what bookshops are:

"A bookshop is a bookshop owner's vision, and book-lovers tend to share visions. At the end  of the day, it doesn't matter so much what publishers declare to be the latest trend, or what's going to win such-and-such an award that year. A bookshop's aim is the same as the reader's aim, and it isn't restricted to time: they help things stay steady, and balance everything out. All they want, all we want, is a good book" (63). 

James Daunt, of Daunt Books, on e-books:

"If you own something digital, you don't own a physical thing. I can see e-books replacing the paperback copies one might give away after a single read, but I still think that people like to own books-- physical books and beautiful objects-- and, because of that, good bookshops will stay" (92). 

Daunt on children and growing up a reader:

"If you fall in love with reading young, it's something that will stay with you throughout your whole life--you might not find yourself reading all the time, but you will always go through periods of wanting to be around books, and the worlds they offer" (92-93). 

Again, and not to take away from bookstores, but this is applicable to libraries as well who not only offer books for children but also do programs to engage children in reading. Many of those kids will grow up to use libraries, but they will also become book buyers. Perhaps bookshops should send us a thank-you note once in a while.

The passion of booksellers, which I would say is the passion of book readers as well:

"Our passion is in the word, the power of the word, its freedom and the ability of stories to take us to other places. To live many lives at once, as mindful reading allows" (156). 

Cliff McNish on secondhand bookshops, also why I like such stores so much:

"Is there anything better than entering a secondhand bookshop? Inexpensive books (good!), but also books you've never heard of, or barely heard of, by people who were writing in your genre, and your target age-category, just a generation or even half a generation ago, and have already been either completely or half-forgotten. There they are, in hardback and paperback, remembered. Honoured. Which, since we nearly all end up there eventually-- let's not pretend-- honours us all" (181). 

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This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:



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