We never pass by an indie bookshop if we can help it but, on arriving in Carlisle last Friday evening on the way to the border, we were actually stopped in the street outside Bookends and directed down a side-alley where this particular shop has a books-and-events cafe to be proud of, and where there was a book launch going on.
I’m glad we were, because one of the things I really value in an indie bookshop is its ability to be a part of the community and – a rare talent indeed this one – be sufficiently interested in local book activity to be able to tell the difference between local books and locally produced books (eg: you are allowed to be of interest in Carlisle if you are writing or publishing in Carlisle, whether or not your books are about Carlisle.)
Here is a little book that is about Carlisle and was produced in Carlisle, by Lakescene Publications – did you know there was a major experiment in state-run pubs that lasted over half of the last century? It had its pros and cons and, as author John Hunt states, ‘the system was full of anachronisms and strange customs,’ (so makes for an entertaining read) but it ‘did achieve much in the city.’ It’s typical of the kind of thing you find out in local book collections, and come away so glad you know.
That particular book came out in 1971 – Bookends is one of those multi-room shops in which you can wander from new titles through reproductions to secondhand and antiquarian titles. If you’re visiting, give it plenty of time – including half an hour for a coffee break in the very welcoming cafe.
It was at Bookends that we discovered that the series of spoof Enid Blyton books currently enjoying a whopping good season includes one little bookling especially for booksellers. I also came across a book of non-sweet samplers for people who like stitching but don’t like goo – it was called ‘Really Cross Stitch’ and was just a few books away from a detailed study of the likely methods, gains and pitfalls of Universal Basic Income.
And that’s the biggest reason you’ll always find me standing up for real, indie bookshops with a well-presented collection of real, pick ’em up and flick through ’em books – you end up coming away with books you would never have thought of searching for on t’internet. That’s a huge problem for small press publishers and niche authors – the most common reason people have for not buying their books is that they never find out they exist.
One unexpected title I took with me from Bookends was no rarity, but new to me – ‘A Skinful of Shadows’ by Frances Hardinge. It’s meant to be for children, so I’ll pass it on to one when I’ve finished it but, not wanting to be too grown up, I’m a sucker for signed copies of interesting-looking books and absolutely love it when they turn out to be a good read, as this one definitely did. It’s a fantasy set in England at the time of the Civil war, and presents an unusual problem for its heroine. It’s all very well coming from a strange line of people who have the dubious talent of hosting any passing lost soul, so that they gradually become walking committees, but what if you’re one of those and accidentally invite a recently dead and extremely angry bear to share your head? And I thought my life was tricky…
Fast forward to the last day of the holidays, because talking about every bookshop we wandered into in a week would take a long time. Preparing for the long train ride southwards, we stepped into The Moffat Bookshop. The small front window in a tourist-engaging side-street suggested perhaps there wouldn’t be a lot there but The Moffat Bookshop is both well stocked and well organised. Himself searched though a section of Scottish authors, and found an old friend to re-read on the way home, James Kelman. With men of conscience everywhere currently trying to work out what to do in response to the #meToo campaign, anyone who’s baffled by it all could do a lot worse than revisit the first story in this collection, ‘Pictures’, which demonstrates that neither the bafflement nor the anger are new, and that observant men have not only just discovered there’s a problem.
I was a bit harder to please because previous bookshops had already made my baggage darned heavy but the Moffat Bookshop had the answer in the shape of a good selection of magazines and pamphlets. The best one I picked up was issue 5 of The Poets’ Republic, in which I laughed heartily at Jane Murray Bird’s Smear, nodded sagely at Matthew Stewart’s The Rules, and was delighted to learn that co-founder Neil Young has promised to send Roger McGough a copy of Poets’ Republic in response to McGough’s statement about not finding anything in the Bridport entry lists to prevent politicians sleeping at night. If you’re not sure how to write politically relevant poetry without being boring, ranty or otherwise annoying, try reading an issue or two of The Poets’ Republic. If you like what you see, you can contribute to the ‘fighting fund’ here (they accept both money and poetry.)
Ho hum, back home in Hastings now. Better get on down to Bookbuster and catch up on the local book talk here.