Kicking the slush off my boots (which I had discovered, to my dismay, had holes in them), I walked in to yet another branch of Waterstones. I’ve visited dozens of branches across the UK, and while none of them are very surprising to behold, they are all very comforting, and this one was no different. This time, I was in Belfast, and had braved the snow and wind in my ill-chosen boots and not-quite-up-to-scratch-against-the-cold coat because I was running out of reading material (you know it’s dire when I’m under 100 pages from the end of the book and don’t have another one set up) and I had two more days to fill before I would be anywhere near my local bookshop (another Waterstones).
Note, throughout this prolonged introduction, I have not once mentioned ordering online. In the first instance, it’s fairly obvious why I haven’t considered ordering online in this scenario (aside from the fact there’s no computer handy). But I also have a good reason for this.
It’s because I hate ordering books online.
I loathe it. I detest it. It makes me shudder at the very thought.
Think what you like about Amazon; I have used and will no doubt use it again, Destroyer of Souls or no. Sometimes there’s simply no use going into a bookshop and Amazon can offer certain titles or editions a bookshop simply can’t. But it doesn’t mean I have to like it when I hit one-click order, or have the cardboard, Amazon-tattooed package drop through the letter box (though there is a certain frisson of delight, like opening a birthday present). And it certainly doesn’t mean I have to abandon the bookshop for online shopping.
In between the reports about print being dead and the slow demise of bookshops and libraries alike, there are moments of shining hope (“print sales are up on last year!”, “such-and-such a community has saved its library!”) – and yet I can’t help but feel there is a certain point being missed here. That online shopping could never and will never replace the beauty of the real thing.
No. I much prefer my bookshop – from the hundreds of Waterstones with their coffee shops and comfy chairs, or the independent bookshops with their quirks and charms and offers of biscuits and tea (in cup and saucer, no less). I much prefer the ever-so-slight library hush, the somnolent browsing patterns and the magic of a new discovery.
Because that’s why bookshops will never die.
There is nowhere else you can browse rather than shop the books, discover new delights and remember old ones; there is nowhere else you can have a perfect stranger recommend a good read, or a bookseller know exactly which book you’re asking for before you even finish asking for it (case in point, I was asking for Necropolis when in fact I meant Narcopolis and the bookseller still found me the right book).
I have such love for bookshops – from when I first discovered them as a child, to when I worked in one, and during many an hour in between, wiled away among the shelves. When I walked in to that Belfast Waterstones, cold and wet, I knew that I could spend the next hour in there, simply browsing to my heart’s content until I found the next book to discover, or go straight to the right spot and pick up exactly the right one. I knew that if I so chose, I could ask a bookseller to help, and they would reveal their encyclopaedic knowledge, leading the way to book mecca.
There’s nothing quite like it.
Do you have a favourite bookshop?
What’s been your best bookshop experience?