September 14 saw the start of a Saatchi-backed nationwide campaign called Books Are My Bag to celebrate independent bookshops. Readers were encouraged to swing by their local bookshop and show support by making a purchase and having a natter with the owner. According to a report in The Guardian, 7% of independent bookshops disappeared from the high street in 2012, with the total down a third since 2005. If we add the loss of libraries to the equation then supermarkets become the most visible place by which people encounter books. I don’t want to live in a no-frills world where taste is reduced to economics and only the big hitters can afford to stock the shelves at reduced rates. I want more than fifty shades of celeb biogs.
To celebrate Books Are My Bag I travelled across Nottingham to Lowdham which is home to the Bookcase, run by former President of the Booksellers Association, Jane Streeter. Jane is a genuinely warm person who always greets you with a smile and has an incredible knowledge of literature. She has a flexible attitude towards the market, making sure that she goes out into the community – selling books at the Playhouse, organising reading groups at schools – rather than expecting people just to come to her. She’s approachable and always keen to accommodate author book launches as well as stocking a diverse range of book related paraphernalia. Her versatility is the reason she’s been trading for seventeen years and a lesson to shop owners in all trades.
Jane requested customers leave one of their earliest reading memories on a Postic note which she then pinned up in the shop window. It was a simple but brilliant idea that instantly aroused conversations between strangers. This is another element of the campaign, the C word: community. If you want a high street that comprises more than a KFC, Tesco Express and twenty charity shops, you need to put your money where your mouth is. I did this by purchasing a copy of Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale For The Time Being which is shortlisted for the Booker and published by my favourite publisher, Canongate.
When I thought of my earliest experiences of reading lots of images flooded back. The first book I ever bought was Scully and Mooey by Alan Bleasdale. I bought it after watching the series on TV. Francis Scully (played by Andrew Schofield) filled up the humdrum hours of his day by imagining he was having conversations with Liverpool players. A kind of Billy Liar for footy nuts, if you like. But the book I selected for my childhood memory was the The Magical Faraway Tree (1943), which was one in a series of four books by Enid Blyton. My mum read us all a chapter each night and I remember being desperate to go to bed to find out what happened to Moon Face and his friends.
I wonder how many people feel that same level of excitement now that they can have everything they want, immediately, on demand.
- Books are Barbara Brownskirt’s Bag! (Publishers less so.) #booksaremybag (booksellercrow.typepad.com)
- What’s in My Book Bag… (thescribbleemporium.wordpress.com)
- Books Are My Bag (thepenguinblog.typepad.com)
- Friday Book Design Blog: Man Booker Shortlist 2013 (blogs.independent.co.uk)