The latest wave of the pandemic is easing and hopefully, the vaccine program has helped reduce the caseload of hospitals, so that they are no longer in danger of being over capacity. We all must hope this is the turning point and that the virus will, at the very least, become less of a threat to us in future.
One of the milestones for lifting restrictions, certainly in Wales, is on April 12th. On this day, all shops should be able to reopen and the High Streets of our towns begin once again to buzz with activity. Commerce is what drives our society and as such, is a necessity!
One thing that will be welcome to all those with a literary bent, is the opening of bookshops. Whilst online shopping does allow convenience to us, there is nothing that beats the opportunity to feel the book in your hand. To study the form, admire the cover, read the blurb. Perhaps even to scan the pages, are there maps? Is there a glossary for those awkward names? The naughty ones among us may even peek at the final paragraph to see if it hooks us as much as the start – or even reassurance that the ending will satisfy us. It gives us the opportunity to browse. Has there been another release in our desired genre that we were not aware of? Or is there something new that takes our fancy.
There is an inner calm with a bookshop. Like a library, it offers some element of peace and quiet, as we focus on our choices, with the overwhelming aroma of printed paper gently permeating our senses.
Bookshops are essential in my view. The large online stores can send us the titles we desire, but in a soulless manner. Besides, look at their bank balances – they won’t suffer if some of us stray back to our roots; but your local bookshop will. Not only does it provide a centre in our locality for literature, it also puts money back into the local economy. It pays wages, it pays local rates. It may even contribute to local initiatives. Quite certainly what it does is promote those of us who have chosen settings for our work which are not deemed mainstream by the larger retailers. They support small publishers, who the big boys won’t even give the time of day. It allows them to showcase their wares. Whether fiction or non-fiction, there are some very interesting offerings therein.
They also are staffed by people who care. Who are interested in what they sell. A long time ago, I was browsing in a bookshop in Gatwick Airport and picked up a copy of the latest book by Malcolm Pryce. An employee opened a conversation and we soon were talking about how although Malcolm’s universe was slightly left of centre, he had managed to capture the feel of Aberystwyth. The employee’s perspective was from his student days, mine because I grew up in the town the same time as Malcolm. (And probably knew many of the people who became characters in it. Yes, I ended up buying the book…)
That anecdote does show the power of sales, but in a friendly engaging way. Most of my experience of that happen though is at independent booksellers. One particular memory was when I was looking for a venue to launch ‘Forest Brothers’. I first went to a large branch of a retailer. ‘Yes, we can do that, but you need to supply your own refreshments, clean up after and you have two hours’, said the lady in a rather bored way, totally ruining my above point. It happens; the world is not a utopia.
I then went to the bookshop at the local Arts Centre. A bit cowed by the above response, I mumbled to the manager about how I had a new book and was looking to launch it. His eyes widened with delight ‘Great! You’ve written a book! What’s it about?’ I didn’t look anywhere else.
And that is what independent bookshops do bring to the table. An interest, a drive and a desire for literature. Many of our indies are specialist, but they sell books we may fall in love with. They are real people in an increasing world of automation and indifference. So why not give them a try?
On 12th April, our bookshops re-open in Wales. Aberystwyth is lucky to have four indies, but there are many others in towns across the Principality. There are many in the UK of course and if you haven’t heard the message yet, I will say it again. Support your local bookshop. Check them out, I’m sure you will get a friendly welcome. Certainly I do feel without the support of independent bookshops in Wales, also publishers and distributers; Wales would be starved of literature. We are quite regularly deemed too obscure for the ‘stack em high and sell em cheap’ brigade.
Give them a try. Here’s a link that shows all the independent bookshops in Wales. Each one a nugget. Click on the video link and it opens up the map.
Oh, and to those who think of a bookshop as a place of ‘worship’, I recommend to you a particular bookshop in Maastricht, which illustrates this point 🙂