On this day – Sanctuary Saturday – an idea born by Books are My Bag to celebrate bookshops as a place of calm and respite from our hectic daily lives; a memory of a place that started my life long love affair with bookshops.
One of my favourite childhood memories was perusing the shelves of a second hand bookshop in the small market town in Sussex I grew up in. I suppose we often view days gone by and times of old through rose tinted glasses – something I am no doubt guilty of – but suffice it to say that books and the shops in which they’re sold played an integral part of my infancy. I used to visit Murray and Kennet with my dad at the weekend and remember it fondly. The low ceilings, the slightly musty smell of second hand books, the shelves groaning under the weight of tales unread; the bespectacled bookseller with grey tufts of hair. A treasure trove of tomes, where every nook and cranny was piled high with books, it was a place I loved to visit, and rifle through the dog eared books whose spines were cracked and pages well thumbed,
It was a magical place for me as a child, and the charm of bookshops has stayed with me well into my adult life. They’re special places, packed full of stories untold and ideas yet discovered, sanctuaries in whose shelves we seek solace away from the stresses, the strifes and the strains of every day life. There has been many a time when I’ve found myself perusing the shelves of a bookshop, or curling up with a book as a way to disconnect from the world outside; where I’ve found comfort between the pages of a well-loved tome; escaped to a country unknown; an isle faraway. There are tales that have abated my homesickness, that have fuelled my thirst for travel, that have whet my appetite for the written word, and much much more besides.
All these stories are found within the four walls of a bookshop; yet for a while, many spoke of their dramatic decline – the meteoric rise of Amazon and the birth of the Kindle and ebooks playing a key part in their demise. And yet, while many bookshops have sadly shut down – “The numbers of independent bookshops on our high streets have nearly halved in a decade, from 1,535 in 2005 to 894 in 2015,” says Lisa Campbell, news editor of The Bookseller – their fate is not yet over. Closures of bookshops are slowing, e-readers have had their glory day with e-book sales declining year on year, and many aspiring owners have not been put off the idea of opening their own bookshop.
And so, to finish – a reminder to support your local bookshop, to find cheer among the stories, refuge among the books; to peruse the shelves endlessly in search of that special tale that will remind you of the magic that lies within the pages of every book you open. To remember the importance of bookshops, and their unwavering solidarity in times of need, in times of hardship and in times of nurture.
To misquote Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, “I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of bookshop.”
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