Now if you love book shops but haven’t yet met or heard of the wonderful Erica from the equally wonderful blog ‘Bookshop around the Corner’, you are in a for a treat. Erica is an enthusiastic bookshop frequenter who travels the length and breadth of the country visiting bookshops and writing about her visits on her blog. She is a great advocate for the independent book shop and her blog is a great place to start if you are looking for a bookshop in your area….
She describes herself as an “avid reader with a love of bookshops” and says she loves “any bookshop where sales are made face-to-face”. Now I couldn’t agree more with these sentiments, so I was especially pleased when a short time ago Erica kindly agreed to talk to Changing-pages about being a bookshopper.
So without further ado, (drum roll please), it is over to Erica
Erica, tell us why you think it is so important that people visit bookshops rather than buying books online or from supermarkets and the like?
Bookshops are almost unique on the high street in that they’re one of the very few places it’s okay to walk into and start talking to a stranger. However, this benefit is merely a happy side effect.
The real joy of bookshops is how much they give: personal recommendations from a human being who knows the new title that’ll be perfect for you; book signings where you meet your favourite author for free; reading groups, children’s events and tea mornings; they’re the place you can pop to when escaping the horror of the high street; and they’re simply the only shops around that can transport you to a different world without you having to step on a plane. As providers of these and many more services, bookshops are valuable parts of our communities.
And you get all of that for a mere £7.99 (on average, if you’re able to limit yourself to one book).
Supermarkets will offer cheaper books, but you pay the price with significantly less choice and no one in Tesco ever offered me valuable advice on what book to read to distract me from a particularly long day at work.
As for the internet, yes the books are cheap, but there’s a reason for that: there are fewer wages to pay, fewer business rates and bookshops to maintain. The price of using the internet can be seen by walking past boarded-up shops on the high street. I know many people rely on that reduced price to make ends meet, but even if each reader bought every fourth book from a real bookshop they’d be making a difference to their community.
How much time to you spend visiting bookshops?
I have no idea! A lot. I can spend anything from 30 minutes to two hours in individual bookshops when “officially” visiting them, depending on how much time I have available.
These visits can be random as I’m passing, a diversion on a long journey or part of a dedicated day of bookshopping. If you were to add the visits all together I’d say on average I must spend at least one full day a month in bookshops – but probably a lot more!
How do you plan which book shops to visit? Do your readers and other book lovers suggest bookshops to you?
Many of the bookshops I’ve visited have been recommendations from book lovers. People often tweet or email me to tell me about a bookshop they love so I add it to The List. This helps me prioritise visits because I’ll only write about bookshops I’m happy to write about positively – having one recommended beforehand reassures me it’s not likely to be a wasted visit (which is thankfully very rare). Recommendations also help me to know the bookshop is still open, as relying solely on internet searches has occasionally led me to empty shops.
Others are visited because I’ve chatted to the bookseller on Twitter or, occasionally, they’ve emailed and invited me. However, some bookshops are visited simply because I’m in the area and saw they were nearby.
What do you particularly look for in a book shop and what makes a book shop extra special for you?
There are lots of things I could list, but I’d say a good 90 per cent of what makes each bookshop special is the people. Generally the bookseller(s), but also the other customers.
Have you always been a book lover and bookshop visitor?
Yes and no. Yes, I’ve always loved books. One of my earliest memories is of reading Ladybird books with my Mum. No, I’ve not always visited bookshops. Until I was 15 I was actually scared to go into them, which I touch upon here. Part of the reason I started writing my blog is to make sure other people don’t miss out like I did.
What is your favourite way to visit bookshops, are you a solo shopper or do you like to browse with others?
Generally, my visits are on my own because I don’t know many people who are willing to risk losing several hours of their life to bookshopping with me! But I do love to browse with others, it’s great to share the experience of the shop and enjoy those random, rambling conversations that can only be inspired by hundreds of colourful spines.
Visiting so many bookshops must make it very tempting to buy lots of books? Do you have any rules about buying when you visit book shops?
I have no willpower in bookshops! It’s taken a lot of effort but I’ve gradually learned to limit myself to one book per shop. Which I generally stick to, meaning I buy around 52 books a year, plus the odd extra purchase to support my local bookshop.
Are there particular books you remember reading as a child that influenced you and ignited your love of books?
So many! In particular The Secret Garden, which I remember reading with my Mum and continue to re-read as often as possible. I think the characters and their experiences also had a big influence on how I turned out.
And finally, what are you reading right now?
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. I’m a bit late to the “Ferrante Fever” party because I tend to resist reading books when they’re being raved about, preferring to wait until the hype’s died down and I can make up my own mind. Two thirds in, I’m hooked.
Thank you so much Erica, it has been a joy to hear more about your bookshop life. The Secret Garden was a book I also loved as child and one I suspect which has influenced me too.
If you have enjoyed this interview, then do head over to The Bookshop Around the Corner blog where you can read lots more from Erica.