The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell

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Reviewed by Harriet

I suppose nobody will be reading this unless they love books, so I don’t really need to sell you on the concept of bookshops, unless of course you are so technologically minded that you read everything on your e-reader. If you are, this book should be required reading for you, because you’ll certainly be converted, as it makes bookshops sound like the most exciting and magical places in existence . Which indeed they are, or should be. We’re talking here about independent bookshops, of course, not the big chains. All in all there are over three hundred bookshops described here, some in more detail than others, and Jen managed to visit a great many of the ones located in Europe. But this was a worldwide research project, so there are bookshops described, and even shown in photos, which are located in every part of the world. Each one is unique, and many are, as Jen says, wierdly wonderful. I was very taken with the One Book Bookstore in Arizona, whose owner sells only one book, which he wrote himself — and, amazingly, he’s sold over 20,000 copies. But there are bookshops on barges, on bikes, in vans, on donkeys, even one in a telephone box. Brazenhead Books in New York doesn’t have a known address — you have to email the owner for directions and an appointment. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are whole book towns – we all know of Hay on Wye, of course, but their example has been followed in Scotland, Spain, Norway and elsewhere.

Bookshops may be purpose built, and some of those are very splendid indeed, but more often they seem to find their way into abandoned buildings and shops, barns, factories, churches, or indeed people’s own houses. They often start small and grow and grow, like Blackwells in Oxford, which began with one room and now takes up four floors and a huge basement, with art and music shops across the road. And sometimes they sell other things as well as books — coffee and cake, most commonly, or art, or music, but there’s a bookshop in Oxfordshire that sells hats, for example But whatever they look like and wherever they are, these shops have one thing in common — they have been opened by people with a huge love of books and a desire to instill that into other people. A bookshop is not just about selling books from shelves, but reaching out into the world and making a difference, as one bookseller puts it.

And The Bookshop Book isn’t just a list of the bookshops. Dotted through the book are entertaining and informative ‘Bookish Facts’, little nuggets about the history of books and bookshops. Then, in addition to the interviews with a number of shop owners, there are also short pieces by well-known authors, describing their own relationship with bookshops. So you’ll find something by Bill Bryson, Tracey Chevalier, Ian Rankin, Audrey Niffenegger, Joanne Harris, Jeanette Winterson, among many others. Bookshops that don’t get a full entry are helpfully described in shorter paragraphs under the heading ‘Some Wonderful Things’.

So whether your preference is for new or secondhand, and whether you live in the UK or the US, or in Outer Mongolia, or anywhere in between, you’ll find something for you here. I was pleased to find a reference to what used to be my favourite local bookshop, Broadhursts in Southport, Merseyside, where your books get wrapped up in brown paper and string while you sit by a roaring fire.

A lovely book then, and a perfect present for any booklover of your acquaintance (which might be yourself!).

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Harriet Devine is one of the editors of Shiny New Books.

Jen Campbell, The Bookshop Book (Constable: London, 2014). 978-1472116666, 288pp., hardback.

Author Jen Campbell wrote a piece for our BookBuzz section in our last issue. Do click here to read it.

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