This was the first day of the now annual World Book Day, and I had been given a £1 book token.
It may seem quite a small thing to change a life, and indeed at the time of the presentation I rather felt it was preaching to the converted as my love of reading was no secret, but for that reason I decided I had to really make the most of my pound and use it for something different.
And so I made my way to W D Wharton, the independent bookshop serving Wellingborough in Northamptonshire.
I’d walked past it many times on my way from school to the town centre but always felt too shy to go in. I wasn’t particularly experienced with bookshops and had been to a library only a handful of times since leaving primary school, which meant a proper, dedicated bookshop wasn’t somewhere I felt entitled to enter. Instead I’d borrowed books from friends and family or even school, or settled for the limited selection WHSmith had to offer while trying out the coloured pens.
But this day was different. Book token in hand, I felt I had an invitation to finally enter the bookshop.
I won’t pretend to remember how I got on during that first visit, I can’t remember what I bought and I can only lay claim to the date because of Wikipedia, but I do remember the change it brought about.
It opened my eyes to the fact a bookshop wasn’t the terrifying place or elite club I’d imagined. No one told me off for being there or criticised my choice of book, and I didn’t feel out of place among the other shoppers as we were all focussed on the rows of books and the delights they contained. It also opened up my world to a wider selection of books than I’d previously encountered. I was a convert.
Since then I’ve explored a number of bookshops and I hope to visit many more, but even though it’s been about 15 years since I visited the town, the bookshop of W D Wharton still holds a special place in my heart.
I admit, the front of the bookshop is vague in my mind, and I couldn’t even remember its name until I came to look it up last week, but the inside – the man behind the counter; the shelves of books, especially the classics which became my go-to area; and even the way the light fell through the window, all stick with me. As does the memory of some of the books I bought: I’m pretty certain my original copy of my all-time favourite read, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, would have been purchased during one of my visits.
Sadly I’m unable to revisit W D Wharton as it closed in the spring of 2000, but the love affair with bookshops it inspired is very much alive. And now - as I’m still just setting out on my adventure to explore bookshops around the country - I can’t help but wonder where my love of books and bookshops would be if I’d never been given that £1 book token and opened the door to a different world.