Rivers of Books

Inverness in the highlands of Scotland is not the most attractive town. I wouldn’t say it was ugly, but it’s not far off. Apart from the river, and a couple of restaurants, it didn’t seem to have much going for it. That was, until I found the bookshop.

Not just any bookshop, one that might just be the best bookshop in Scotland, if not bigger land masses. It’s housed in a former church, and retains all the old-world charm, including stone work and a timber altar. The place is immense, and filled entirely with books. They are on two floors, and separated roughly by topic, although the Dewey decimal system clearly does not apply here, judging by the volumes on the floor, on chairs and on every conceivable surface.

Staff are helpful, but otherwise unobtrusive. There is a wood burning stove in the centre of the floor, and a zigzag of pipes take the warmth upstairs, where if you are still not warm enough, you can buy bowls of homemade soup. The entire shop is enveloped in the smell of wood smoke and a broth bubbling away.

I browse. Then I browse some more. Time is ticking away, so I remove my watch and place it in my pocket, so as to be untroubled by the passing of hours. I move slowly from section to section, pausing to pull out volumes here and there, perusing the ‘travel’ section with particular rapture, and being overwhelmed by the wall of orange-spined Penguin novels. I stop for a while to read on a wooden chair.

I return to the travel section, and go through them shelf by shelf. I’m looking for anything Iceland related. Scandinavia features heavily. Norway. Finland. Tattered travel guides. Sweden, the Faroe Islands… getting closer… Iceland. Got it. Instantly I see a smallish hardback book, faded spine that was once red. It’s called Rivers of Iceland by RN Stewart. I ease the book out from its fellows on the shelf, and scuttle back to my reading chair. The chair remains unused, and I’m pleased about this as its delightfully close to the wood burner.

The book smells old. Not in a bad way, but one of years passing by. The cover is worn, and the pages are yellowing. It has the sort of smell and feel that could never be replicated by an e-book. It fits pleasingly in my hand.

Read the full article at Iceland Review online here.