My first job in bookselling was at the Castle Hill Bookshop in Richmond, North Yorkshire. It’s a lovely shop and everything a local bookshop should be. The range is hand-picked, with careful consideration of what reading matter appeals to the locals and visitors out for a day in the Dales or those walking the Coast to Coast path. There were, and still are, regular bookish events including author signings and readings, a book festival and full support of local reading groups, schools and libraries.
This is just a small snippet of what a local independent bookshop does. If you pop in, it will soon become obvious that the staff know their stuff, and if you pop in regularly enough they will have just the right recommendation tailored and waiting for you. Indeed, it happened to me just before Christmas when I bumped into an old colleague who now works at Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street.
On my trip to TNNA a few weeks ago, I was terribly delayed flying back from Chicago and sought refuge in a wonderful bookshop at the airport. I don’t recall the name of it but it wasn’t a Barnes & Noble so I figured it must be a small chain. The selection was brilliant and I soon found myself getting carried away before realising I had to carry all these books around with me! A quick edit, and I came away with ‘Conquest of the Useless – Reflections from the making of Fitzcarroldo’ by Werner Herzog, and ‘One More Thing’ by B.J. Novak, a selection of short, very quirky tales that have been helping me retain a sense of humour during The Big Move!
Most independent bookshops are also really active on social media and one of my favourite Twitter accounts is The Bookseller Crow based in Crystal Palace. I’ve never actually been to the shop (there is an ongoing joke that it was too far away), but you can pretty much guarantee the books they are chatting about will be really good reads and more than likely become bestsellers in the future. This is the other thing independents do; they take a relatively unknown book that publishers don’t want to, or can’t afford to promote heavily, and they turn them into bestsellers simply by word of mouth. There’s a good chance you’ll find your most favourite book ever in an independent bookshop that would have otherwise passed you by, and what a shame that would be! In fact, as I was writing this post I clicked through from the Castle Hill account, to the City Lights homepage and discovered an anthology of the Pocket Poets series is due for publication and have pre-ordered it. I don’t know if I would have ever stumbled across it otherwise.
I stopped using Amazon completely at the start of the year as an experiment to see how it would affect what I read and how I buy, and haven’t looked back! It’s fairly easy to do in London as there are so many independents along with excellent second hand bookshops, but even though I am now living a good way away from a local bookshop, I use Foyles for online ordering and have been really pleased with the service. Not only am I supporting an independent business, but I have just as many (if not more) benefits such as free delivery at a £10 threshold, discount for ordering online and I often find the books are cheaper than Amazon, plus I get Foyalty reward points that offer a nice discount on future purchases. In fact, the benefits are far better than Amazon.
I’ve managed to convert a few people away from Amazon – to be honest it wasn’t difficult – and I hope I can persuade a few more of you. I do try every so often to talk about the importance of our indie bookshops, as they have meant a great deal to me for as long as I can remember. If you haven’t recently been to your local shop, try and pop by this weekend and show them some support. I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to see you!
As I paid for the books at Chicago airport, the assistant popped a bookmark in each one before handing them over to me and I remembered the other, ridiculously simple reason I love independent bookshops…it’s the bookmark! A little token of love you show for your book and one the bookshop shows for their customer. Slightly soppy but true!
This post is part of Circle of Pine Trees monthly book link-up, ‘The Year in Books’. To see what others are reading and to add your blog to the list pop over to Laura’s beautiful blog.