A day at Heffers.
It's not really clear what is going to make a bookshop successful into the 21st century against the competition of Amazon etc. There was the rush to the "in-store coffee shop" a few years ago, but that didnt save Borders. And anyway the coffee shop is always going to take up space where you might have books, and that is the beginning of the slippery slope.
It's probably a much better idea to move in the Literary Festival direction. I have done a number of bookshop events of that sort (including some great events at Bookmark in Spalding and Topping of Ely). But today Heffers did a whole day Classics festival, which was free and booked out. In fact the ting had been so popular that they had to move it to the Union Society to fit more people in.
This is not the place for me to put the record on about inportant local bookshops are. OK I use Amazon sometimes, but if we all buy all our books from Amazon, we'll wake up one day and find we dont have a local bookshop.. and we wont like that.
This day I think was a great advert.. and lots of books were sold, and fun had.
I did a few short gigs during the day (the idea was not to have hour-long lectures, but short contributi, that might spark of wider discussion). There was 15 minute slot in the morning in which I tried to sum up why Classics was important (the "if you were to cut it off, you would leave Western culture as a bleeding torso" line); and again in the afternoon I took another 15 minutes to think about Classics and television (pluses and minuses, recon vs no recon, to CGI or not... etc).
There was a great cast, including my colleague Paul Cartledge, Tom Holland (en route to Newcastle for an event with Mona Siddiqui), Caroline Lawrence packing in the kids.. and loads more. We ended the day with some of us (inc Michael Scott) picking a couple of book recommendations. I decided to play a straight bat and pick two ancient texts: the Penguin translations of the Odyssey and of Petronius' Satyricon.
The point about the Odyssey is, as I said at the event itself, you can pick it up and read it cover to cover. The Iliad is great, but you would have to skip bits (like Book 2). (OK the truth is that you have to skip some of the Satyricon too, but the Trimalchio's Feast bit is just so brilliant...)
The funniest bit of the day was a shop "signing session", in the middle of Heffers main store. These signing are always worth it, and you meet all kind of interesting people (which I did.. including some undergrads I didn't know; nice!). But they also bring you face to face with the business of selling books and selling yourself. Being in a great bookshop, in what is now I guess the run up to Xmas, I sat there thinking that I should be shouting "come on everyone, 3 for 2, Xmas presents solved, signed copies"... but something stops one! (Thank God, maybe)