This week I read a headline which made me do a little dance around the kitchen:
‘Waterstones plans more stores as book sales rise.’
More book stores? Book sales rising? Can it be possible? If previous reports were to be believed, you were more likely to see a unicorn in the 2.30 at Uttoxeter than new book stores on the high street but no, apparently it’s all going rather well at Waterstone’s (they’ve dropped their apostrophe – I refuse to) and indeed Foyles, the London-based chain.
And they are talking about actual, physical, pick it up, sniff it (no? just me then), purchase, take home and read with joyful pleasure-type books. James Daunt, the Waterstone’s MD and, let’s say it as it is, book-selling wizard has declared that sales of Kindles have pretty much dried up. Of course, this is largely because people are reading eBooks on their phones, tablets and other similar devices instead of purchasing a separate Kindle for the task.
But eBooks aside (I’m not knocking this particular medium; it’s how I earn my keep), the fact that sales of physical books is up and there may be more book stores as a result is a reason for much celebration.
When I was growing up in a slightly grubby corner of south-east London, my parents used to take me on a weekly pilgrimage to the big local town. On this particular high street there was a toyshop, a stationer’s, a department store, a Wimpy (we never went; too expensive) and tucked down a dark alleyway (which in my mind has become a version of Diagon alley, when actually it was all concrete and graffiti) was an independent bookshop. I remember it as being small with rooms leading to more treasures and of course lined floor to ceiling with books. Above all, the thing I recall most vividly is that smell; the smell of the book.
Having spent most of my life around books in one form or other, that smell has been to me what the smell of a good gravy is to a chef; heaven in a box.
I think it’s a smell that means different things to every person but for me, it can be summed up in one word; possibility. It’s that sense that on opening a new book, you will be transported somewhere else, to a different world, a different time or just to the company of a character you will grow to love like a friend.
For me, being able to walk into a good bookshop is a necessity of life because of the way I feel when I’m there. It’s different to a library; less a group-imposed silence and more a hushed introspection but I truly believe that this quiet sanctity is becoming more important than ever. In a world of rolling news (most of it too sad to bear), frenzied social media and constant fact-bombardment, we need time to quieten our minds. We need to be still and calm without constantly being poked, liked or favorited, all of which frankly sounds a bit unsavoury.
When I walk into a bookshop, as I did this week (the newish Foyles on Charing Cross Road), I immediately relax. I feel at home, among friends; safe. This particular branch is so perfectly designed; spacious, light and filled with that smell. It’s a bibliophile’s sweet-shop. It has the obligatory café, which is everything you’d want it to be and a music shop nestled above the two floors (two floors, reader friends!) of books. Oddly enough, I was greatly taken with the pull-out drawers section filled with sheet music and I haven’t played a musical instrument since 1995. Apologies to anyone who was alarmed by a woman in a blue bobble hat grinning like a loon as she browsed the shelves on Thursday afternoon; I was just so very happy.
And with relaxation and happiness, I am that child in the bookshop again. The world of possibility is opened up and with it my mind. I am searching for new ideas or just a mighty fine book. I found it as it happens. It’s called, ‘How To Be a Public Author’ by the splendidly named Francis Plug. I cried with laughter on the train journey home much to the embarrassment of my husband who was trying to concentrate on his far more serious book. I went to bed that night, a new book by my side, my heart content.
So, my book-loving friends, let’s be proud and cheer the readers, who browse and buy, the booksellers, who lovingly display and entice, the publishers who produce such irresistible beauties. Bookshops are here to stay and if we’re lucky and keep supporting them, there will be more for us all to enjoy.
A world of possibility awaits…