Let’s Talk About Bookshops
We’re all book lovers here, right? And (other than the book itself) what is the greatest part of going shopping for books?
The bookshop itself.
We all love that particular book scent, yes? A bookshop can’t help but smell that way! Seriously though, if Jo Malone were to release a ‘Bookshop’ fragrance, I would happily buy up a couple of candles. Just think of all of the choices – where do you start?! Crime, romance, autobiography, travel, history, politics, the list can go on and on.
You could wander around for hours, piling as many tomes up in your arms as you possibly can, before you inevitably manage to drop one, and then the rest of them as you try and collect up the first. It’s a space in which you can travel around the world, insert yourself in fantastical lands, fanciful plots, or daring real-life escapades, through the power of writing and imagination. Isn’t it just the best?
Perhaps this is a romanticised image.
Actually, there isn’t really a ‘perhaps’ about it, is there. Of course this is wildly romanticised. This is the image created for us by Richard Curtis in Notting Hill. This is the fantasy that we create for ourselves, based on the idealised nostalgia all of us book lovers innately feel. I have a friend who has just got engaged to a man she met in a tiny independent bookshop – in my mind, that’s the dream.
I moved to Kingston-upon-Thames, on the outskirts of London, in late September last year. It wasn’t a town I was at all familiar with before the move, so it took a few weeks of getting incredibly lost every time I went in to the centre before I really started to get my bearings, and discover what the town had to offer. And there’s one thing it certainly doesn’t have to offer – bookshops. (It’s also seriously lacking any decent bars, but that’s a separate issue)
The only bookshop in the town centre was Waterstones – note that I say ‘was’.
I’ve grown up around Cheltenham and the Cotswolds, where independent bookshops stacked high with literary choices for everyone can be found around every street corner. I went to the University of York – if you know the city centre at all, you’ll know that the options for specialist, independent and vintage bookshops are second to none. (If anyone needs any recommendations, Fossgate Books is brilliant, with a phenomenal selection, and a fantastic proprietor who will have a recommendation whatever your taste – he even found my Giles-collector Father a rare Giles jigsaw!)
I was definitely spoilt for choice before now. And don’t get me wrong, I really like Waterstones. In the last few years, under new leadership, the environment in their stores has become incredibly warm and inviting, almost making you forget the monopoly that they now have over reading in the UK.
But this is where I encounter my current problem with Kingston’s lack of bookshops – the Waterstones in the town centre has recently closed, and without warning. A new cinema and development is being built above space, and the shop itself will have a complete refurbishment. But it’s now not supposed to open until Autumn. That’s nine months with no local bookshop.
I overheard a shopping centre security guard explain this to a family with young children, and he did not seem to be able to comprehend why the children looked so disappointed at the fact they would be unable to browse through the shelves – but I did. He emphasised that there was another Waterstones in the next town, if they really had to go.
Now admittedly, I can be at Waterloo within half an hour, so personally it’s not as if I don’t have any options. Hatchards is brilliant after all, and there is a Foyles within Waterloo Station itself. But is anybody else concerned by this? Why are we diminishing the worth of a bookshop?
I don’t need another cinema, or any more restaurants to choose from. But I do need a good bookshop. Now if I’m lucky, a batch of independents will spring up in the absence of Waterstones, but the likelihood of that if frankly rather slim. I can but hope!
If anyone has any recommendations for good bookshops, leave them down below – I’m willing to make a road trip!