Why the Bookshop Will Never Die

BookshopKicking 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?

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3 Comments

Filed under Booky things, eBooks

3 responses to “Why the Bookshop Will Never Die

  1. Great post. So true. Just walking around and staring at the books is a fun time, not to mention calming and more than therapeutic. Real readers who read for the reality of reading, not to keep up with Oprah, or the latest teen fad, but the real stuff, the emotion, the magic of it, can’t deny that going to the book store and seeing the real-deal is far better than reading weird and misspelled irrelevant comments on any book selling site online that are probably computer generated anyway. I agree, book stores will never die, as long as there are still real readers who need to have real relationships with the written word.

    Loved the imagery you had running through this whole piece too. 🙂 A great write on reading.

  2. I too like the browsing, but in Pasadena, CA there is also a record store. Record stores may never die either, but honestly, there won’t be many left. The internet has killed so many businesses it is incredible, bookstores are only one group that have fallen victim of the crushing march of technology. This is neither good nor bad, it just is.
    On the other hand, I published my book this week on amazon. This paperback was free to publish and is available to the world.
    No bookstore would carry it and yet there it is.
    Yes just being in a bookstore is a wonderful experience. Bookstores will remain, but so will corded telephones and records, there just won’t be as many.

    • I wonder who will miss out with less of them around – and the same goes for the record stores and other businesses pushed out. I wonder if those who never get to browse will ever experience the same kind of thing that we who could did. I’m all for the evolution of print – I don’t believe eBooks are the devil like some – and I’m so pleased to see that you are published! I think that you are an example of what’s good about self-publishing and eBooks and the march of technology – because of the opportunity and freedom they all allow. But I also think that everyone should have a chance to browse a book store (or a record store for that matter).

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