Some bookshop magic

About two weeks before we opened mostly books, Nicki, Alex and I made a pilgrimage to Much Wenlock in Shropshire, the home of Wenlock Books. Amongst many things we learned from the marvellous Anna Dreda, two comments she made stick in the mind. The first is that "selling books is a privilege" (something the former owner used to remind her of regularly) - and we've had cause to be reminded of this ourselves this week (more below on that). The second was that "magic sometimes happens in a bookshop".

We've had quite a bit of magic in the last couple of weeks - and we thought we'd share some with you.

A couple of weeks ago, a lady came into the bookshop (heavily pregnant) asking for a baby-book recommendation for her husband. After a few suggestions, she decided to take "Fatherhood: The Truth" by Marcus Berkmann (a personal favourite of mine). She decided to vet it before giving it to her husband, however, and laughed so much she went into labour. Both her, husband and baby Lawrence popped in last week to tell us the story - and ordered "Rain Men" by the same author.

(If anyone knows Mr Berkmann, please do pass on this story to him!)

We're known as "Story Town" by at least one little girl who regularly comes in (what a poppet). And this week several people have popped in "on the off chance" that some event or storytelling might be going on. Well, Thursday sees the triumphant return of the wonderful Miss Markey of Long Furlong School for our regular storytime, next Thursday sees a drawing session with local children's author David Melling, and May 5th sees the return of master storyteller (and banjo player) Peter Hearn.

Some of our visitors don't even wait for a storytelling event - they just camp out on the steps. This is Thomas and Hugh - I hope that's Thomas on the left (post a comment on the blog guys if I get this wrong!).

Hugh seems to have read more classic sci-fi novels than me, and it was a treat to have a big discussion about Greg Bear with a fellow devotee last Saturday...

One way to hedge against the precarious financials of running a bookshop in this day and age is to get family members helping out for free. Alex is almost ready for the job:

Typically, the first customer order he handled was "Reprint Under Consideration". Always a tricky one to sort out...however, the entire backlist of Ian Rankin was far more straightforward and had him smiling again:

It's difficult to appreciate that we still haven't made it through one year yet, so our anticipation (and planning) of Easter has been as stab-in-the-dark as Christmas, and we still aren't sure what to expect. However, our new staff member Anu decided to pop into Abingdon and put together a few Easter chicks, rabbits, yellow tissue paper, and - voila - one Easter display.

Both Brenda and Anu have been doing a sterling job of running the shop ahead of our impending family arrival - isn't it great when you hire people who are actually better than you running a bookshop :-)

OK - tomorrow's the big day, so I'd better get some sleep. But...back to that "privilege" comment. A couple of weeks ago a lady called Linda came into the shop. She was very nervous, and it transpired that she had never been into a bookshop before, and, in fact, couldn't read. As we've got to know Linda a bit more over the last few weeks, it turns out that she has embarked on a very intense adult literacy course - and Channel 4 are making a fly-on-the-wall documentary about her experiences.

As part of the deal, she has someone to read books to her, and so she asked us to recommend some 'classic' reads to her. Anu and myself felt a little intimidated by this (and also the weight of several hundred years of English Literature weighing down upon our shoulders). We've done our best so far, but - we've agreed with Linda to put the question out onto the blog.

It is quite a challenge. To have someone for whom books have never been part of her life, to want to know where to 'begin'. I feel perhaps it is an unanswerable question - but if you were in our position, what would you recommend?

I'll keep you updated over the next few weeks on her progress...


  1. thomas parks11:54 am

    hugh is the one on the left,thomas is on the right.

  2. It's great reading about your progress with the shop ... it sounds like you've really created something nice there. I will pop in if I'm ever passing through, which may be in a few months time. I would love to be living near you, to benefit from all those events you seem to organise so effortlessly. Well done! :)

  3. I knew I'd get those boys mixed up...sorry!

  4. Classics... mmm well I'm a sucker for Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

  5. Well done to Linda for doing this! I'd recommend any of the following - Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma......mainly becaue the BBC have some fabulous dvd's to go along with them and they might be a good way to back up the novels.

    And once you're done with the classics, I'd try out some "classic trashy novels" by Jilly Cooper!! How fantastic that you can help Linda to achieve this.

  6. Well, our first stab was some Bronte plus Austen. However, I also recommended Great Expectations (my personal favourite Dickens) and we also tossed in a DH Lawrence (that may have been a mistake, well, Nicki thought it was) and 'Rebecca' which I think is a great book.

  7. I know a lot of people can't bear short stories but I love them. When I was young I enjoyed those by Chekhov, John Wyndham, John Steinbeck. Currently I'm dipping into The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories edited by Malcolm Bradbury. And then there's Angela Carter ...

  8. Short stories - thanks Ruth! I can add Muriel Spark to that list as well (and Greg Bear, but he's not to everyone's taste...although I didn't know John Wyndham did short stories, I will look out for these. We're doing Midwich Cuckoos for our bookclub, and Chocky is on face-out at the moment in the children's room)

  9. Anonymous12:53 pm

    I think Linda deserves a great deal of praise for tackling a difficult task later in life, and I hope she finds the rewards as huge as I guess she will. I am not sure that I would start her on some of the thicker classics with complex syntax and long words, though, depending on her level of articulacy; given that all reading demands concentration and energy, I'd suggest something that won't exhaust her at the start and will give more immediate rewards. That's why I think 'Rebecca' and short stories are excellent suggestions. More of the same: how about some modern novels with a bit of intellectual meat: Julian Barnes, Terry Pratchett, Louis de Bernieres? Something with a bit of local interest, like 'An Instance of the Fingerpost'? Or some non-fiction that ties in with Linda's other interests; perhaps she has thought about growing her own veg and would like a gardening book, or she likes Thai food and could teach herself to cook something from a book?

    Good luck to her!


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