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.
It’s quite clearly not unusual for me to indulge in a bit of book-shopping. It is unusual for me to lose all self-control and succumb to not just one but multiple hardbacks in a single splurge. Honestly, I don’t know what came over me. Maybe it’s the knowledge that it’s payday tomorrow or maybe I was just slightly high on the prospect of a week off with the forecast of blazing sun every day and absolutely no commitments beyond my blog and my books; whatever the (100% valid) excuse I’m now the proud owner of a diverse and somewhat unexpected pile of reading happiness. So what is this booky bounty?
“Silk” by Alessandro Baricco – since I’m still going with “4 3 2 1” I’m in desperate need of something short to make me feel like I’m achieving something! I would never have picked this up off my own bat but two colleagues at work have recommended it so I have faith that it’s going to be a good ‘un. As an added bonus the chapters are about a page each, so if that doesn’t make me feel like I’m making progress nothing will.
“These Dividing Walls” by Fran Cooper – I find Twitter such a great way of discovering new and forthcoming titles, and this is one that I’ve seen mentioned or reviewed several times with almost universally favourable comments. The premise sparked off comparisons in my mind with “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”, which I adore, due to its Parisian apartment block setting. The style and indeed the substance may well turn out to be completely different of course, but nevertheless I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy it.
“Swallowing Mercury” by Wioletta Greg – this is a bit of a risk in a sense since I know nothing at all about either novel or author. Yet something about it kept nudging at me as I was browsing the shelves and eventually I decided to take a punt. The cover art is stunning for a start, and the impression I get from the tiny sections I’ve dipped into is that it has a slightly strange, dreamlike and almost musical quality that I found magnetic, even without knowing anything about the story or setting. Watch this space.
“Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman – I read an excerpt from this novel in a magazine a while back and immediately thought: I AM Eleanor Oliphant! I was intrigued by the heroine and the idea that life can be, well, absolutely fine, and yet missing something very fundamental at the same time. There’s been so much love for this all over social media and I can’t wait to read it.
So, a week off awaits and I have a stack of new books, so the reviews should be coming thick and fast before too long! Here’s hoping your week is as sunny as mine, see you back on the blog soon.