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"A Home for Every Book"

On Bill Anderson, Bouquiniste, and books



Bill Anderson partly credits the establishment of Bouquiniste Bookshop to the Scottish weather. Though he first started selling his books and postcards at a weekly stall on Market Street — outside where The Central is now — he soon felt a more permanent (and drier) alternative was required.

 

Anderson bought the current space at the narrow end of Market Street in 1982 when he was in his 20s. As he quips, it was actually possible to buy property in St Andrews “in those days.” 


He set about filling the space with a wide range of second-hand books — most of which his family had sourced themselves — becoming the youngest bookstore owner in a town that, at that time, still contained a number of independent bookstores.

 

“I like them because they are artefacts. I like the sense of handling something that's come through the generations,” said Anderson. 


Anderson recalls going to auctions with his “eccentric” English teacher and bidding for second-hand books. That’s when his pursuit of a potential career in the police force, and even as a shepherd, shifted — instead, he would pursue a literature-based career. This persisted through his time as an undergraduate in Edinburgh, his time studying abroad in Tours, France, and his career as an English teacher in Glenrothes. 

 

During his time as a teacher, Anderson spent his weekends working at the bookshop and found that his love for meeting new people came in handy in both pursuits: “Teaching English — you talked and talked and talked,” he said.

 

It’s no different in the shop, according to Anderson. He prizes the experiences and characters that the constantly evolving town has brought through his door over the decades. “I ask people, I talk to people,” said Anderson. “Customers become friends.” 

 

He remembers a candle given to him by a customer. It was supposed to smell like old books, but we all concluded it smelt just a bit too sweet. When asked about how he would define the smell, Anderson said, “It’s like lots of things in life, you know what they are but couldn’t define them.”

 

His love for literature extends beyond the walls of the bookstore, with his personal collection being a particular source of pride. Containing books ranging from local history and folklore to Antarctica — a particular passion of his wife Ann — it’s tricky to find a particular focus of this collection. “Something I want to read,” is how Anderson described the standard for a book in his collection. 


Out of all the books in his library, he lists his “personal favourite” as Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. Focussing on the difficulties of life at the turn of the 20th century in rural Scotland, Anderson believes it truly captures the era. For Anderson, who grew up in a similar area of Scotland, the book’s characters are “characters I can remember from my childhood,” and the Scots language they speak is something with which he was raised. To Anderson, reading means “losing yourself, forgetting about the rest of the world.” 


Anderson’s family has been equally shaped by a love for literature. Bill credits Ann — his wife of 54 years and owner of the store — with doing “all the hard work […] behind the scenes.”  


Their daughter Laura, who has a degree in fine arts and who designed the store’s infamous tote bags, plans to run the shop when Anderson steps down. Nonetheless, Anderson added, “I’ll keep working as long as I can.” 

 

“It keeps me young,” said Anderson, talking about the fulfilment he gets from the continued learning that working in the bookshop facilitates. In fact, he believes the best advice he can give is to “keep learning, keep listening.”

 

It is evident how much he values continued learning. Offering an example from his time as a student, Anderson tells us about a time when he was willing to “cut down on what I was eating” in order to afford a book he wanted. 


He remembers a particular time when he was just 17 and looking to buy a historical book that cost £30. He only had £24. When the bookshop’s owner saw this and told him he could take it for just the money he was able to give him, Anderson says it “stuck with me forever.”

 

He says it is this experience that continues to motivate him to offer a discount to the students and regulars who come in. With a rather flexible pricing system, this can often result in significant savings for the town’s bookworms. 

 

As we near the end of the interview, a customer comes up to the counter with a book in hand. It’s a copy of Sunset Song. He’d heard Anderson praising it during our interview and now wanted to read it himself. With a chuckle, Anderson offered him a warning of the first section of the book, which he finds “a bit tedious.” He charged him £2.70 — student discount certainly included — and out walks the book’s new owner, back into the busy streets of St Andrews. “There is a home for every book,” Anderson concluded. 




Photo: Mari Claudia Reimer

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