Monday, 13 August 2018

Erica in wonderland

Bookshopping can be a bit like falling down the rabbit hole. From the outside I'm visiting a shop on a high street, which is a really rather unremarkable experience, but from the inside it leads to all manner of possibilities, encounters with weird and wonderful people and the potential for more adventures than a trip to your local newsagents can offer.

Even in the most ordinary of bookshops you never know what you're going to get if you open your mind to the possibility of all the offerings hidden behind simple paperback covers, but let's be honest, there's no such thing as an ordinary bookshop.

The second day of my IBW 2018 bookshop crawl began with a different Lewis Carroll reference, as we visited Madhatter Bookshop in Burford. You enter this bookshop not through a rabbit hole but a delightfully quirky door, and the first thing you see is books. Lots of them. There's also a large selection of hats, but we'll come to those later.

To the right of the door is the wall of general fiction, next to the till so it's in the perfect place to chat with the bookseller while you browse. Which is exactly what I did, learning about the bookshop, the books, hats and enjoying a great selection of recommendations. This latter point was very welcome but also challenging, because even without the good advice I'd found a good five or six titles I couldn't imagine leaving behind. You see, Madhatter Bookshop's shelves are among the most unusually stocked I've visited.

Four booksellers choose the stock, each with their own reading preferences and areas of expertise, and it really shows here. Sure there were a few must-have titles that every bookshop needs to stock, but otherwise the range and diversity of the books was remarkable. These observations aren't just limited to general fiction.

Intelligent non-fiction is cleverly placed among the hats and walk into the back room and the children's section is brilliant. I also further lost myself in the classics (where I was pleased to spot the odd classic science fiction title alongside their contemporaries) and crime, which is usually my least favourite section to browse. In every instance I'd spot unexpected stand out titles generally only found in the largest of bookshops. Independent bookshops are often limited for space and therefore have to stock books accordingly, so to find such a large number of unexpected titles and authors was a treat.

Returning to the front room, I'd chosen my book (Money by Emile Zola, while the boy picked David Bellos’ The Novel of the Century) and now I couldn't leave without trying on a hat or two. I admit this isn't my area of expertise, but there was quite a mix of styles and at least two happy hat buyers visited the shop while we were there. I also enjoyed the opportunity to pose with my bookshop hero cape and a hat, while I'd never encourage anyone to visit any shop purely for the fun of trying out the stock the bookseller embraced my adventure and encouraged me to find my superhero style!

With books and hats and beautiful details everywhere there's lots to enjoy in Madhatter Bookshop, which is actually one half of a pair. We didn't have the time to venture to the second outlet on this visit – that will be a treat for another day.

Madhatter Bookshop
122 High Street, Burford,
Oxfordshire OX18 4QJ
Tel: 01993 822539

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Buzzing for books

When I think back to my encounter with Octavia's Bookshop in Cirencester – visited during my IBW2018 bookshop crawl – my immediate memory is of the joyful buzz of happy children.

They were noisy, chattering, enthusiastic, boisterous, happy, excited and any number of other words that convey a sense of positive noise. Some were loud, some were more mellow, but for the entire time of our visit there was an infectious buzz of chatter coming from the young readers this bookshop is aimed at. There were no piercing shrieks or angry voices, no one needed to be told off and there was certainly no bad behaviour, just a room full of children and their accompanying adults in search of their next favourite book. It was a wonderful sound and incredibly infectious.

Not that there needed to be any children in this gorgeous purple surrounding for me to enjoy it. Even empty the bookshop is a luxurious delight, with sumptuous decorations so that the Moomins scattered around the room (and flying in the window) looked like works of art in their custom-made outfits.

A large L-shaped space, Octavia's Bookshop follows the usual style of fiction and recommendations at the front, then reference then – where children's would usually be – a dedicated corner for adults. It was a nice touch and yet another reason for me to smile. I didn't see any adults in this section during our visit, but they definitely appeared to be enjoying themselves as they joined in the browsing with their youngsters. My favourites were the adults reading picture books to their children, but there's also a lot to be said for the middle grade youngsters who marched determinedly to the shelf of their favoured author to see if a new title might be available.

The thing all the children had in common was their apparent love of reading and a willingness to share it as they loudly told whoever was willing to listen just why X was their favourite author, or what they hope will happen to Y character during their next adventure. I challenge even the grumpiest of adults to not enjoy such sounds as they browse shelves holding books from a genre they're less familiar with.

We didn't get to meet Octavia herself during our visit, but the bookseller in charge was obviously as knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the books as the young customers he was serving. He also took the time to talk to us, telling me the story behind the custom-clothed Moomins and the bookshop in general.

Ordinarily in a children's bookshop I'd make a point of asking for a recommendation but this time I resisted because I'd already spotted a series that's long appealed: I chose Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens.

I'm conscious I've not described the bookshop itself in any great detail and this isn't down to any failing on its part, it really was a stunning space, but I was so taken by that buzz of children and the joy they exuded that I feel their excitement is the thing to be focused on here. Youngsters aren't shy with their opinions, and the noise about Octavia's Bookshop was 100 per cent positive.

Octavia’s Bookshop
24 Black Jack Street, Cirencester, Gloucestershire GL7 2AA
Tel: 01285 650677