Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Last weekend a bookshop saved my life

There's only one thing worse than not having a book to read and that's having money to spend on a book and not finding one that grabs your interest. The most obvious reason for this malaise is my mild, yet chronic, mid-life crisis.

When you quietly slip into your forties (and to be honest in my case, some years before) you find the world is no longer arranged in your favour. You get irritated by every radio station, jeans no longer fit because it's now cool to have half your arse hanging out and people occasionally point out that the pretty barmaid with the sexy smile is young enough to be your daughter.

None of this is a huge problem but in this in-between world stretching between youth and middle-age it can be very difficult to find yourself. Take music as an example.

In my teens and twenties I used to flick my way through hours in music shops, searching for the next album that would set my ears on fire (and secretly thinking I looked pretty cool). Then along came Amazon where I could explore different genres by looking at what other people had bought and recommended.

Next came music downloads but then suddenly - not only was I too cool to like much of the mainstream music, but I was too uncool to feel moved by the alternative scene. I know there is music I will love out there but it gets harder to find.

Books have travelled a similar journey but it's much, much worse to buy a book that you can't be bothered to finish than an album that only gets a few listens. A trawl though Amazon doesn't really help as the bestsellers in the different genres don't seem to appeal - everything just looks too similar in each genre. It's no different in Waterstones, especially the books on the special offer tables.

Last weekend on a trip to Bath we popped into Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights on a recommendation of a friend. It's what Americans would be stereotyped as calling 'quaint' - a Georgian building crammed with books and charming eccentric touches such as a kettle and tea bags to make yourself a drink and a book display in a bath. I loved it the moment I walked in.

Then, standing in the fiction section I suddenly felt I belonged somewhere. It was in the area where the staff recommend their favourite books, pretty cream bookshelves peppered with little notes saying exactly why they loved them.

Nearly all of these books jumped out at me and begged me to take them home. Somewhat bewildered by this change in events I stumbled across to the travel section to look for books set in Spain - a passion of mine.

Again I could have walked away with an armful.

Reluctantly restricting myself to a reasonable amount I found myself in a queue to pay. While I was waiting,  the owner of the shop excitedly told me just how good one of my purchases was and how much I would enjoy it. There was genuine pleasure in his delight at my future reading pleasure.

It seems I may have to save up and do a few bulk buy visits a year to Mr B's. At the moment I'm trying to suppress the urge to ask them if they will help me set up a bookshop in my own town.

Go visit Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights. The web site is almost as good as visiting the shop - well, okay, it isn't but it's far better than other online bookshops I could mention.

The books I restricted myself to are:
The Telling Room: A tale of passion, revenge and the world's finest cheese by Michael Paterniti (I'm currently devouring this)
I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
All my Friends are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman
How to Cheat a Dragon's Curse by Cressida Cowell (for Thing 1 and Thing 2)

There is also an interesting sequence of events that lead to my arrival at the shop:

1) I've been doing some work with a local cinema who were showing the film Mr Peabody and Sherman. This film is fabulous fun involving lots of time travelling mayhem.
2) I was asked when I would like to time-travel to and my instant answer was  - bohemian Paris in the 1920's.
3) I described this to my Mum two weeks later who grinned in a strange way and handed me 'Books, baguettes and bed bugs'  by Jeremy Mercer that describes the Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris - an old haunt of the famous bohemians - that becomes a hostel for penniless writers at night.
4) After finishing and enjoying this book I had an urge to visit a 'proper' bookshop on our trip to Bath. I asked a Twitter contact for advice on what to do in the area knowing she would include a literary suggestion.
5) She recommended Mr B's that was only 50 yards from our hotel.

6) I now find myself really wanting to open my own bookshop.

All the photos of Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights are used with permission of Mr B. Don't steal them. Even better, go to the shop and take your own photos like I wish I had done.