books i bought recently

The Joy of Bookshops

I recently visited a bookshop for the first time in ages. Browsing the shelves, picking up books at random, reading back covers and ruffling through the pages was a true joy.

I recently visited a bookshop for the first time in ages. Browsing the shelves, picking up books at random, reading back covers and ruffling through the pages was a true joy.

I’ve had a love affair with bookshops for decades now. As a child, I discovered the joys of reading mostly through my local public library, but when I became old enough to have money to spend on books, I took great pleasure in assembling my own collection. And even when I was short of money, I just loved browsing the shelves!

In the days before book blogs and Goodreads, I discovered most of my new books not through reviews or recommendations but by picking up books at random in bookshops, a process I wrote about years ago in a post on lucky dip reading.

Recently, though, I’ve been missing bookshops. Like the rest of the world, I’ve been hampered by Covid-19 in the last couple of years, but on top of that, I’ve been living in non-English-speaking countries for most of the past decade. I don’t speak the local languages well enough to read whole books, and the English-language sections tend to be small and limited. On top of that, I spent five years travelling full-time, so I had to keep my luggage very minimal.

So, by necessity, I’ve been reading a lot of ebooks, even though I don’t enjoy the experience.

Now, though, I’m in Barbados for a few months, and there’s a second-hand bookshop within walking distance—and, even better, I can sell the books back to them for half the purchase price. So if I like them, I’ll take them back to Europe with me, but if not, I don’t have to weigh down my suitcase.

So there was no reason not to stock up:

books i bought recently

I don’t know most of these books. Snow is the only one I’d actually been planning to read one day. Caryl Phillips is an author I know of and want to try, but the other three are true “lucky dip” reads. We’ll see how they work out…

But whatever the books are like, it was great to be in a bookshop again. The shop is next to a long strip of great beaches, so most of it was devoted to classic “beach reads”: romances, thrillers and the like. Not really my thing. But there was a shelf for Caribbean literature, and another one for “Prize-winning novels”, which was mostly European and American literary fiction. So I’ll probably pay them another visit or two while I’m here.

Just browsing the shelves, picking up books at random, reading back covers and ruffling through the pages was a true joy. I’ve always loved the feeling of being surrounded by shelves full of books, something that’s impossible to replicate in the digital world. When my Kindle is full of ebooks, I feel nothing but a general sense of irritation and being overwhelmed. When I have 20 tabs open in my internet browser, it’s even worse. But when I’m surrounded by hundreds of books neatly stacked on shelves, I feel the thrill of all the stories and knowledge contained within those covers.

I’ve written more about bookshops vs buying online in the past if you’re interested. For now, though, I’d love to hear if you’ve been able to get to bookshops and/or libraries recently. If so, what did you pick up? Or has the pandemic forced you into buying online?

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There are 10 comments

  1. So glad you found a bookshop and got to spend some quality time there! Bookshops are such magical places. I haven’t been to a bookstore in ages. My husband works in one so he gets the pleasure 5 days a week! And if there is a book I want to buy he makes personal deliveries 😀

    1. Ah, your husband is living out one of my fantasy alternative lives! I’d ask if he needs an assistant, but I think the commute might be a little long for me 😉

  2. Hi Andrew,

    I share your nostalgia surrounding print books and bookshops. I went to graduate school in Toronto during the 1990s and I discovered and frequented many good quality bookshops in downtown Toronto. When I finally got a job after graduation, I was lucky enough to work at an institution of higher learning which had both a bookstore and a library. I also had friends who knew I was a bibliophile and passed on to me books they no longer wanted to keep. In these days of COVID I miss browsing shelves outside of my home, but at least my own shelves are generously stocked.

    1. Ah yes, I bet Toronto had some great bookshops! I only visited briefly, almost 20 years ago now, but it seemed like a very vibrant city. Are those bookshops still around today? I ask because a lot of independent bookshops from the 1990s were lost in London and New York, first to chains like Barnes & Noble and Waterstone’s and then to Amazon. Did you have a similar effect in Toronto?

      Anyway, I hope you’ll be able to browse in bookshops again soon! I was lucky that the case numbers here in Barbados were very low until recently, and businesses have strong COVID protocols in effect (masks, hand sanitiser, temperature checks, ventilation, distancing), so I felt quite safe. But Omicron is here now, so who knows… In the meantime, I envy your well-stocked shelves—that’s something I really miss. But I do at least have a well-stocked Kindle!

      1. I don’t mean to butt in here, but I myself believe that the trend you’ve observed in other bustling culture-hubs has been true in Toronto too. I wasn’t here to observe the shift when the bigbox stores arrived in th ’90s (although was working in an indie bookshop in a smaller Ontario city when that played out), but difficulties with sky-rocketing rents were still impacting indie shops in Toronto even in the past five years. However, there are a few outstanding indies here, even so, despite the dwindling over the past two decades. Some amazing speciality shops (a mystery/suspense and a SFF) as well as more generally literary shops and even a very small Toronto-based chain, Book City. If you ever visit again, you’ll have to arrange for shipping them all back to Barbados I’m sure.

        1. No need to apologise for butting in! It’s good to hear what the story is in Toronto. It’s been such a difficult time for independent bookshops, but I’m glad there are still some good ones left!

  3. I’m so excited for you to be able to add some books to your shelves, even if temporarily. That must feel so good! I haven’t browsed in a shop since the end of 2019 but have been able to get a few small deliveries from the indie shops here, which has been a real delight. It was such a thrill to see the bookshelf landscape transformed just a bit! And a few shipments from indie publishers have rounded things out (when the indies didn’t have things in stock that I was itching to have). I’m not complaining, but I will be happy to browse again. It’ll probably even feel a little overwhelming? Everything in that stack looks great to me!

    1. Yes, it does feel good! Unless I love the books, I’ll probably end up taking them back to get half the money back rather than carting them back in my luggage. But it’s nice to be able to do some book buying for now. Glad you’ve been able to stock up a bit recently, and hope you can start browsing again soon!

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