In praise of the paper-and-ink

There’s a place you can go where everything smells of unicorns and chocolate sprinkles. Stuff Disneyland. Just take me to Waterstone’s.

(I am putting the apostrophe back in, because COME ON, WATERSTONE’S.)

The Waterstone’s at home was a house of wonders. The books sat in the old Wool Exchange building in Bradford, and I breathed in the paper-and-ink under huge vaulted ceilings, wanting to take everything home with me. Instead I wandered through all the aisles, brushing the covers with the tips of my fingers, sitting on tucked-away sofas reading first chapters I dreamed about later. It was intoxicating.

If we’re shopping now, I save the bookshop till last, the way any sensible person saves the Yorkshire pudding till last on roast dinner days. If I have anything to do with it, my kids will want to savour it too. I want them to sit at the little table in the children’s section, rummage through shelves, run (clean) fingers over the pictures and find new things to love.

We might not be that lucky, of course. Bookshops are a rare breed, these days, and they’re getting rarer. Waterstone’s is the only one in my town, and it’s probably the only one in yours. Who’d bother to get out of the house and spend £8.99 on a book, when Amazon will deliver it to you in your pyjamas for £3.50?

Well, I would. And I think you should too. Think of it like buying free-range eggs: it’s more expensive and sometimes more hassle – especially if the eggs come with chicken poop still on them – but you do it for the hens, and because it’s the right thing to do. Online booksellers are cheap and convenient, but they’re not real. There’s no physical presence, no smell. You can’t come across something accidentally that becomes the best thing you ever read. If there comes a point where I can’t walk into a bookshop and get knocked over by the worlds waiting for me underneath the covers – because Amazon’s shut them all down – well. I will run away to live outside Shakespeare and Company, and I’ll be taking all the free-range hens with me. Because if we can’t sustain a shop full of books on the high street, not even one, then we don’t deserve nice things.

So buy bookshop. Do it for the hens. Do it for your cherub-faced children, who still have a lifetime to be amazed by words. Do it for everything lovely in the world. Do it for me, and I’ll bake you a cake and give you 10p. You can’t turn down an offer like that.

(You may find it hard to believe, but no one at all paid me to write this. Though, if you’re interested, Waterstone’s? Put the apostrophe back in, and let’s talk.)

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6 thoughts on “In praise of the paper-and-ink

  1. beverley says:

    They took out the sofas but the rest is the same. I often have to go and see the books although i have far too many at home to read to buy any more just now.

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  2. natalie hacking says:

    What a fantastic post, Rachel! I feel just as you do — bookshops are my favorite and my best. Here in Fredericksburg, VA we have some delightful bookshops down in historical Fredericksburg (my town is quite small, not by western US standards but by eastern US standards) the historical roots of which lay int he 1600s — old by US standards but not by UK standards, I know. These shops are delightful — that have that bookish smell that fills me with glee. My daughter Chelsea has a weekly ballet class down in historic Fredericksburg and so each week I get to paroose these shops and it is a bright spot in my week. Hurrah for bookshops and the people who love them.

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