Tuesday, 10 December 2013
THE SHOPS I MISS THE MOST
Back in the day,when I was five years old, my mother enrolled me in the local library. It was situated here in Paignton where the old Liberal Party headquarters had once been. To get to the books one had to climb a couple of flights of - to my young mind - very wide stairs. Creaky double doors, one had to push open with both hands, opened into a big space with floor to ceiling bookshelves, all with their headings - POLITICS, SCIENCE, GEOGRAPHY, FICTION ...and the rest. The books I loved the best were the ones in leather covers with very thin, tissue-paper like pages one could almost see through. They crackled when I turned them with a bit of lick on the end of my forefinger - sacrilege, I know, but I was only little. It wasn't long though, before I wanted my own books. For Christmas each year my dear old Aunt Frances always bought me an Annual of some sort....I remember Girl when I was older but not what I had before that. My father gave me 2/6d a week pocket money which was just about enough to buy cheap versions of the classics back then. Woolworth's sold them - hardbacks with quite garishly illustrated paper covers. I still have some of them. The town had a couple of stationers' shops that sold books as well, so I was pretty much set up for book buying - being able to hold it in my hand and sniff the pages (old books always had a smell about them, didn't they?)before taking it to the counter to be paid for and wrapped up. Fast forward a few years ......and not only has Woolworth's gone, but also all those old-fashioned stationers' shops that sold books, too. W H Smith sells books, of course, and have done for some time but I have never felt able to just browse in there with people wanting you out of the way in their haste to buy newspapers and cards and paperclips. Waterstones haven't made it to the coast but I have to say I don't get the casual browse I remember so well when I go into one in Exeter or Bristol or wherever. And now Amazon seems to have become the bookshop du jour. Paperbacks or Kindle, take your pick. Epublishing is, so I'm reliably told, taking over how we want our books, how we buy our books. I often wonder how many of those titles downloaded, because they're written by a friend or a friend of a friend or someone we've friended on Facebook or Twitter, are actually read. I'm not so much of a dinosaur that I don't have a Kindle - I do ....a pretty purple one. But oh how I miss those independent booksellers of old that seemed to be in every town, and often in large villages too. But all is not lost here, we still have an independent bookseller in Paignton - The Torbay Bookshop - although the owners have had to diversify and sell chocolate as well to make the business viable. And they still host booksignings - I've met Sir Patrick Moore, Kate Mosse,Francesco da Mosto, Ann Widecombe, Rachel Joyce, Kate Furnivall, and many others. I've even sat behind the little table piled high with my own books. I'll be there again at the end of January 2014 to sign copies of EMMA:There's No Turning Back. Liking a book signed by the author is a personal choice but there are, I think, still a lot of people about who like a personal message from the author. Last week I was at a talk in Brixham Library given by Lesley Pearse for which The Torbay Bookshop got in the books for her to sign. Even now I'm published myself it's still a thrill to meet a big-name author in the flesh. In high street booksellers buyers are rushed through at booksignings as though on a treadmill - I know, I've been there, done that. But in independent bookshops there is time to chat, to have a glass of wine. To browse. So, while we still have small, independent, bookshops in our towns let's use them, I say.