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.

50826157_569827396761301_6357881221170593792_nWe 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!

This list makes for some great inspiration.

CerianMai96

MA Publishing Student at Kingston University, and English & History Graduate of the University of York. Desperately trying to find a modern crime author who can compare to Agatha Christie. I love novels with a psychological edge - and if that can be combined with defeating the patriarchy, even better. Favourite book I've read in the past year: - Call Me By Your Name, André Aciman Twitter: @CerianMai96 Instagram: @cerianmai96

15 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Bookshops

  • October 2, 2019 at 8:51 am
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    Booksellers has a bookshop search facility. Whilst it probably isn’t comprehensive it’s worth a shot…

    https://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch

    Hope you find a shop soon. I have two Waterstones within a 15-20 drive, my closest indies are 30-40 mins drive away (public transport journey would be 60+mins). One of the Waterstones is pretty good, large and has a café too (bit of a bonus!). The other is much smaller, has a large children-YA section considering the size, a few cafés nearby. I don’t drive.

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  • August 4, 2019 at 9:40 am
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    How about The Open Book in Richmond just a 65 Bus ride away

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  • January 28, 2019 at 11:49 pm
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    Oh no, what a shame. We have a small chain book store in the mall, but more importantly we have a used book store. That’s where I prefer to go and browse – you never know what you’re going to find! Do you have any used book stores around? Maybe you should open one! 😉

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  • January 28, 2019 at 7:08 am
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    It is a shame that lots of book shops have closed. It recenlty took three sessions of browsing in Waterstones before I found a book tucked away that called to me.

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  • January 28, 2019 at 1:16 am
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    Ironically, in my city bookshops and libraries are expanding. Personally I think it is false economy to close down anything to do with literature and real books!

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      • January 28, 2019 at 10:29 am
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        Queensland, Australia, or more specifically Brisbane on the subtropical east coast. There are 33 public libraries, one mobile library van, pop-up libraries for special events and one large State Library in the cultural precinct beside the Brisbane River. I couldn’t begin to describe the wonderful bookshops!

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        • January 28, 2019 at 11:47 pm
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          You have me so excited – I’m going to be in Brisbane in March !!!!

        • January 29, 2019 at 4:43 am
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          Wow! You’ll love it and the temperature in March is pleasant, not as much sting in the sun. Brisbane bookshops are scattered but accessible and with dedicated variety, e.g. Archives Fine Books gives me shivers every time I visit!

  • January 28, 2019 at 1:03 am
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    I hardly ever browse at a bookshop any more, there are very few of them left where i live. the ones that survive are smaller, struggling. This makes me very sad, and i try to make up for it by spending more and more time at the local libraries. Hope the Waterstones reopens soon!

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  • January 27, 2019 at 11:49 pm
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    My local Indie bookshop is Crow Books of Victoria Park Western Aust,, a bit far for you to travel. Perth WA has a pop of over a million but the chains have mostly left the shopping centres and only the historic wharf precinct, Fremantle has a good selection of new and secondhand book shops (and bars!). And, CerianMai96 – you could try Oz author Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series of detective novels, humorous rather than psychological, but definitely aimed at defeating the patriarchy,

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    • January 28, 2019 at 9:46 am
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      A bit far for me to travel too – hoping you have a few good bookshops in Sydney and Melbourne ready for my trip in March…

      Reply

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