Between the covers

The other day I went into an independent bookshop in town to look for a specific book. I’ve lived here for over a decade, but I only discovered this bookshop a month or so ago. I severely regret not looking in it sooner. It’s a wonderful place – every available inch of wall is covered floor-to-ceiling with shelves bearing books of fiction, poetry, history, biography, and any number of other subjects. The further back you go, the older the books become, until you’re in a room filled with antiques: it’s a lovely Aladdin’s-cave atmosphere.

Anyway, during a conversation with the owner, I found out that this place is now one of only about three independent bookshops left in Cambridge. Those aside, there are charity bookshops, and Waterstones, and … that’s it. It’s an unbearably sad thought, because at heart I don’t think books should be just product, no matter how romantic that sounds. Bookshops should be places with a certain romance to them, where you can browse at leisure, drink in the atmosphere, lose yourself between the covers, talk to someone who knows and cares about what they’re selling.

I was also inspired to take a look at my own book-buying habits. True fact: I buy a lot of books. At the moment, I have bought more than I can comfortably read, so I now have a large backlog of reading material, and a self-imposed moratorium on acquiring more. But I’m not as good about buying them from local merchants as I feel I should be. Of the new books I’ve acquired this year, most were presents (which usually means Amazon), three were cheap impulse buys from Fopp (who sell a lot of reduced popular/cult literature and non-fiction), one was from Amazon and one was from a sale at Heffers. Looking at my pile of books I have yet to read, I have two that were presents (from Amazon), three from Fopp, one from Galloway and Porter (now sadly closed down), and one from a market stall.

I love being able to wander through Fopp and pick up a decent non-fiction book for £2, and Amazon’s convenience and cheapness don’t need any further praise from me. But I can’t help but think I should have done more supporting of the local independent bookseller who really need and appreciate it. So here’s my pledge: once I’ve finished my huge books-to-read pile and I’m ready to buy new books, I’ll go to independent suppliers only. If they don’t have what I’m looking for, I’ll ask if they can order it. If I see something interesting while browsing, I’m buying it. Amazon is to be used as an absolute last resort. The fact is, it’s worth forgoing one-click ordering to be able to support something I love.

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