In these times especially, our local bookshops need our support - and often aren't receiving enough of it. Marcus Judd reflects on the unique pleasures offered by such establishments
George Orwell once wrote he no longer buys books due to the disdain he developed of dead bluebottles on the top shelf and the dusting and hauling of titles to and fro. To him, those irritations almost killed his love of books, yet whenever I find myself among a strip of bookshops, the deciding factor of whether to venture in is almost always based on how decrepit and dusty the interior will be. Whether this slight obsession with beaten up bookstore’s predicates to me alone or other book fanatics is yet to be discovered, however, the rise of nostalgia as a whole movement, whether it be in bookshops or pop culture, is undeniable. The fondness of the ‘old-age’ can be found in every nook and cranny of today’s modern world. Record players have come back into fashion, people have started wearing corduroy again and polaroid camera sales have rocketed over the last few years. An explanation for this, I believe, can be found in the dullness now associated with these fields. For example, if I wanted to listen to a record from my favourite artist, I’d have no trouble logging into Spotify in a matter of seconds, the same goes with taking photos with your phone and buying books off Amazon. No doubt these services are immensely useful in bringing the artist and consumer closer than ever before, yet the air of mystery seems to have dissipated, and for something so intimate as literature, that can sometimes be fatal for the reader’s interest.
Despite this, over the passing weeks in which I have called this small-town home, the mechanical process of browsing and buying books online seems to have dissipated as I’ve discovered the bookstores shut off from the rest of the world. Now understanding the title ‘the bubble’, these establishments truly capture what I’ve imagined being the golden era of bookshops.
There is no doubt that the charismatic feel of these shops has retained over the years, and the history of their evolutions is testament to this. ‘Bouqiniste’, located on Market Street, was founded by Bill Anderson after trading and selling books from a stall had kindled his love enough to open a shop. Despite its size, the walls are filled side to side and the specialization in second-hand books gives the space a timeless quality.
Perhaps the most notable of those in St. Andrews, Topping and Company is the largest of the bookshops and stocks over fifty thousand titles, not to mention the rolling library ladders and wood-burning stove. However, its more modern aesthetic should not detract from the warm atmosphere created with fresh coffee and tea served for customers alongside regular readings and visits from local authors.
One of the more boutique shops to visit is J&G Innes Ltd, a four-generation long family enterprise with a gallery on the second floor containing local artworks. A large store with possibly fewer titles than one might expect, one can also purchase stationary and local publications that are exclusive to the store.
These three places have exceeded what I thought a bookshop could be. Prior to coming here, the WHS Smith in Gatwick airport is where I bought most of the literature on my shelves, and it is comforting to know there are still people and establishments out there that truly care for the books they sell. We have a fairly good track record as a species for never being truly satisfied with what we’ve got, whether it’s turning the wheel into cars or putting libraries into phones, there always seems to be room for improvement. There are some things, however, that I believe we got right many thousands of years ago, it is the same thing these bookshops aim to preserve and it is by the same virtue that people still feel the need to go to them. Sharing what we create should never be a distanced interaction, whether it’s in literature, music, or any form of expression. Perhaps this way of thinking is simply naïve; perhaps times have changed and they are better now, perhaps the polaroid users and corduroy wearers and bookshop lovers are stuck in the past because they don’t want to move forward. But I would argue for a much simpler explanation – that such things are more natural.