I love bookshops. I think it stems from those years working in a record shop, which I also love, but are even harder to find these days. It’s something to do with the browsing, the choice, the options. It’s about making a discovery. Bookshops often have a more calming air about them, and less greasy teenagers looking for the latest Vamps album.
My favourite bookshop is also the one nearest to me. I’ve known about it for a good long while – it’s been there for decades – but over the past few years, I’ve really become acquainted with it. Wenlock Books is special.
Today, for example, I popped in to drop off a new batch of ID for the owner, Anna. Nothing unusual in this – Anna has been hugely supportive of the book since it’s publication and we hosted a launch party together at the bookshop, cramming it’s book laden alleys and nooks with people trying Brennivín for their first time and generally celebrating all things bookish. Anna often asks for more stock – I suspect she really pushes the book on unsuspecting customers, for which I’m hugely grateful.
On arriving, Anna quickly introduces me to a rep in the shop, who stops what he is doing to have a look at my book (he likes the look of it, it feels ‘weighty’) and discuss authors who write in a similar vein to me. We discuss the new Chris Yates book (which I adore), Dip by Andrew Fusek Peters (wonderful) and anything by Robert Macfarlane (but of course!).
Anna dips in and out of the conversation, serving customers with wedding cards and others with armfuls of books. The rep confides in me that Anna is what they call ‘a proper bookseller’. I can’t help but agree.
The problem – if you can call it that – with delivering stock to Wenlock Books is that I am bound to browse. And browse I do. Anna has a knack of sorting out titles that are not necessarily mainstream, but deserving of attention and designed to grab your interest. She is an avid reader, which I suppose is helpful in this trade, and she seldom sells a book she hasn’t personally read or had recommended to her. I’m drawn to a copy of Badgerlands by Patrick Barkham, partly because it’s topical, partly because I love reading about wildlife and partly, in all honesty, it has a cute badger on the cover.
I lose myself in the books, hopping from subject to subject. I toy with buying this and that, looking at Crime, Cookery and checking out my rivals in the Travel section. Matt Sewell’s illustrated birds watch my every move, and I stop to admire the woodcarvings in the beams that you need to know where to find, but once you do, you’ll be enchanted by them too.
Back at the counter, the rep confirms I have made a good choice, and Anna introduces me to a customer who has previously bought and read my book. The customer is full of praise, and I’m slightly embarrassed – not only did Anna call me an ‘author’ (ha, as if I’d ever consider myself to be an author!), but the customer – a lady in her late fifties – is telling me just how much she and her husband enjoyed the book, which turns out to be quite a lot. I don’t quite know where to put myself. I am genuinely delighted though, and tell her so. I also tell her that there will be a follow up, sometime. One day.
Anna, the rep and I chat a while about self-publishing, the local newsagent making a trip to Iceland (I joke that I won’t give him any advice until he buys a copy) and then I leave, clutching my copy of Badgerlands and with a wide smile on my face. Wenlock Books is special.