Campaign for Real Bookshops?
In my quick visit to the UK to launch the Pompeii book, I’ve actually got gigs at three different – but Real – bookshops. A dying breed, in th efface of internet competition.
On Thursday I got off the plane to go to a party at Heffers, still surviving in Cambridge. We all hope that Heffers is coming through its 3 for 2 phase, and its coffee shop taking up as much space as the whole Classics department. The new second hand mezzanine – visit it, or sell your surplus to them -- is a great white hope. And for me, the Classics department at Blackwells who took over Heffers a few years ago, and might just spread the ‘philosophy’, is the great white hope.
Blackwells in Oxford passes most of the tests for a Real Bookshop,. In the Classics Department: a) you can sit down, and b) you will find books there you have never seen. Better than a library.
Anyway, if people in Cambridge wake up in 5 years time and wring their hands that there is no good bookshop in town, they will only have themselves to blame. They will have been buying off Amazon. And they’ll have forgotten that they have people in Heffers who do still know about books.
In fact, God willing, in that nightmare scenario, they will be able to take the train (or drive, if they’re not enviro-activists) to Ely.
For the big surprise of the week was going to the Topping bookshop in Ely.
I don’t go to Ely very much, honestly. When I have an elderly (usually) guest who is keen on church architecture, I will bite the bullet, forget the outrageous entrance charge to that place of worship, and take them to Ely Cathedral.
Now I have a real reason to go.
Toppings not only put on a great event in St Etheldreda’s church (complete with the desiccated hand of the Saint herself on display -- her statue's on the right), but the shop itself where I quaffed a glass of wine or two, before and after, was just like I remember bookshops used to be. That is to say, in addition to the sitting down, it displayed its books spine out (not glassy face), and there were all kinds of signs of personal knowledge and enthusiam about the stock.
So any more candidates for Real Book Shops. I heard on Friday about one in Much Wenlock (wasn’t a bookshop there when I lived there). Any more?
The only blot on Friday night was the big Cambridge taxi company, who were supposed to pick me up and take me home at 9.15. No sign. When I rang, they said they had put the booking ‘on hold’ because St Etheldreda’s church in Ely was not a sufficient address. Didn’t they have a map or a sat nav??
So I took an Ely cab home, which seemed to know its way around.