I was beyond excited last week when the first of three book parcels arrived on my doorstep. Working in a bookshop, I’m lucky enough never to have any need to order my books online, but I have to admit there was an undeniable sense of anticipation knowing what longed-for items lay within. I’ve watched a few unboxing videos now and then, and as an enthusiastic proponent of hands-on high street shopping I confess they’ve always left me a little bit underwhelmed; but having experienced the warm, fuzzy glow of seeing the big black W on my post office delivery, I feel a bit more like I get it. Will this be anywhere near the happiness of stepping back into a bookshop again when these dreadful times are over, however? I somehow doubt it.
Since we closed our doors my fellow booksellers and I have been struck, and quite moved, by the affection that’s come our way from the local community. There have been posts and messages online telling us how much we are missed. A couple of my colleagues have been stopped (at a safe distance let me reassure you) while out walking by customers who want to tell us how much they loved coming into our shop and how they long to be able to return. I’ve even seen an amazing piece of artwork posted online that was done by someone sitting in our café prior to the lockdown and which depicts various groups of people relaxing with a coffee or browsing the shelves in the background.
All this is proof, if any were needed, of the genuine emotional connection that exists between a community and its bookshop. It’s so much more than a convenient place in which money is handed over in exchange for goods; it’s an ark of knowledge, artistry and ideas, and a space in which any book lover can wax lyrical to like-minded individuals about a shared passion. It’s a cornucopia of reading pleasure in which you can get a recommendation from a person, not an algorithm. It can be a safe haven for the anxious or the lonely, or a place that inspires children to embark on a lifetime of reading. It’s an outing to look forward to when you unwrap those book vouchers on your birthday, and a place to make and meet friends – or even, if you’re lucky, come face to face with your favourite author.
No cardboard box on the doorstep can ever compete with all that. I very much hope that there are enough people out there in agreement with me to ensure those bookshops that survive these difficult months will be there for many years to come.