As some of you may know I am a bookseller (yes, it really is the best job in the world!) and something happened over the weekend that made me seethe. A customer asked me for advice on what books her teenage daughter might like. They followed me to the teen section where I offered them a handful of books to look at and left them to it. I went back to see how they were getting on to see a phone out and the word ‘Amazon’ being whispered. They left buying nothing.
Admittedly this isn’t the first time something like this has happened to me, sadly it is becoming more and more frequent, but this time it really irked me, I had a little rant on Twitter and the tweet exploded! I have never, ever had such a response to my random tweet based ramblings and the response to this incident has prompted me to finally put down in writing this post. It’s been rattling around in my head for awhile and now it has come to fruition. As book lovers, I know you already appreciate a good bookshop but I thought I would spread some bookshop love and maybe even surprise you with something you didn’t know about bookshops! So here is why I think bookshops rock.
At the heart of all bookshops is a merry band of book cheerleaders aka booksellers. I’ve been one for nearly ten years now, it’s all I ever wanted to do and I can’t see myself doing anything else. The thought of being forced to find a different job genuinely makes my eyes tingle with unshed tears.
Booksellers are many things (artists, detectives, display genie’s, agony aunts/uncles, comedy genius’) and it’s a role that requires much more than just serving someone at a till or reading all day. FYI – we do not just read all day! If only! At the core of a bookseller is a passion for books and reading. Meet any bookseller and they will happily waffle on at you about any book related subject, whether you’ve asked them to or not! With that passion comes knowledge. Booksellers truly are a font of book knowledge. It’s our superpower. I know with my store that if I am stumped with a book query, I have four other booksellers behind me who I can ask and one of us will know the answer. Booksellers have to be detectives, quite often questions are asked with only a snippet of information and our vast book knowledge is a great help. Well, that and Google occasionally! I love it when a customer gives me a book challenge.
A bookseller will happily spend half an hour with someone discussing and recommending books. Whether it be for themselves, a relative who has everything, a friend going into hospital who needs cheering up, a child who is struggling to find a read they enjoy, the parent of an almost-teen or an almost-adult who is worried about the content of some books – the list is endless and booksellers can produce a book for any occasion.
There is nothing we love more than to put the perfect book into someone’s hands. And please if you enjoy your recommended book then tell us!
Bookshops are the pinnacle a complete shopping sensory experience. You can smell that wonderful new book smell. Your eyes can dance over all those beautiful enticing covers and gorge on the superb displays that creative booksellers have put together. You can read a random page of your potential new book and decide if it suits you. You can touch the crisp fresh book pages and if you’re picky like me, you can make sure you have an absolutely pristine copy. You can hear book related chat going on around you, booksellers love hearing customers talk about books and seeing perfect strangers strike up a conversation about books. Sometimes even recommending things to each other. And you can almost guarantee that during your visit you will hear booksellers talk about what they’re reading with each other!
The one sense I can’t work into the bookshop experience is taste! I mean I guess you could lick a book if you really want people to look at you like you’re crazy! Ooooh wait – bookshops with coffee shops! You can taste some delicious treat whilst perusing a stack of books you’re lusting after. My shop doesn’t have a coffee shop but I have been into ones that do and it really does add a little something extra to the whole experience. It’s probably a good thing I don’t have quick and easy access to a coffee shop, I’d spend my days buzzing round the ceiling full of caffeine.
In order to stay open in the age of online shopping, bookshops have had to diversify. This means that not only can you find books within our walls, you can find a whole host of other exciting things that you never knew you needed! From unique greetings cards, gorgeous wrapping paper and book related gift bags. To science experiment kits, solar system models and dinosaur mugs. From make your own unicorn sets, goo-balls (which are gross but apparently big with the kids these days) and all kinds of fluffy cuddly things. To bookish tote bags and mugs, wooden toys, bee houses and man tins – bookshops have become the ultimate Aladdin’s caves.
It’s not just an unexpected purchase you might make whilst on a bookshop trip. You may also bump into your favourite author! Bookshops host wonderful author events (more on that shortly) but authors also just pop in sometimes for a visit and to sign their books. Recent ‘pop-ins’ for my store have been Ruth Hogan (author of Keeper of Lost Things and Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel), Bridget Collins (author of The Binding) and Onjali Rauf (author of The Boy at the Back of the Class -winner of the 2019 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize) We also had Boris Johnson pop in once but we won’t dwell on that!
Booksellers can also offer an unexpected treat, I can quite frequently be seen dancing and singing around the shop with my work bestie, to the great delight of passing customers! And sometimes we may even share our stash of behind-the-till treats, though I won’t be sharing my Munchies with anyone. I can also regularly be found fighting with sellotape, shouting at an incredibly slow computer, product testing the Christmas Lindt chocolate, cutting and sticking things, telling everyone how much Neighbours made me cry and regaling colleagues with a humorous toddler based story. Booksellers are a fabulous source of unexpected entertainment.
Bookshops can be a hub of book related events. The bigger the store the more varied the event, but you can generally find a bookshop near you with something happening. I’ve been having some great fun recently with children’s events, our We’re Going On A Bear Hunt event was so busy it was standing room only for story time! And let me tell you, it’s pretty terrifying reading a story to a large crowd of tiny humans and their grown-ups.
I am hugely passionate about getting kids excited about reading, as I’m sure everyone reading this is, so if only one child goes away from a children’s event excited about a book then I will be happy.
Events are a great opportunity to meet an author you love and chat with them, I am guilty of fan-girling too often and just babble random words at authors I love! They are also a chance for lesser known authors to get their work out into the public domain.
Rewards from buying things you love most, that you can then use to buy more things you love! What more do I need to say?
Bookshops are just wonderful, special places to spend time. I mean what other shop would you willingly spend hours and hours in?! Whilst I understand that certain online retailers do have a place in the world, when you spend all day just hearing ‘I’ll just go to A*****’ you do start to despair. Soon bookshops and libraries will become a thing of the past and that is heartbreaking. These two places are often the spark that ignites a life long passion for books and without them, the world will certainly be darker.