Your bookshops #19 The Dorset Bookshop

Dorset is one of those places I've long meant to visit but not quite made it to yet, which means I'm particularly grateful to Paul for sharing this visit to The Dorset Bookshop. It's making me consider another bookshopping road trip...

69 East Street, Blandford Forum, Dorset, DT11 7DX
Tel: 01258 452266
Published: 30th September 2016

Some of the books you read in childhood mysteriously resonate with you for the rest of your life. I can’t really explain, defend or justify my attachment to Biggles In The Gobi by W E Johns except to say that, when I read it at six, it seemed to embody exotic adventure. Just the sound of the word ‘Gobi’ was thrillingly foreign – bear in mind this was the 1970s, before the internet had made the rest of the world accessible with a few keystrokes.

So when I climbed upstairs in The Dorset Bookshop, tucked into an 18th century building just opposite the church in Blandford Forum’s bustling Georgian town centre, I was delighted to spot a shelf of Biggles titles. 

Alas, Biggles In the Gobi was conspicuous by its absence, so I turned to the extensive stock of second hand fiction in search of consolation. And there I spotted a bargain: William Trevor’s 1971 farcical, melancholy and evocative novel of London life, Miss Gomez And The Brethen for £2. (The titular heroine, a member of a religious sect, is convinced it is her mission to stop a sex crime being committed.) The condition of the paperback book hovered uneasily between dog-eared and well-read but at that price it didn’t really matter. 

With little time on my hands – my wife and I were due to meet friends at a nearby cottage – I resisted the temptation to sit in the charming armchair and scanned the shelves as quickly as I could. 

Among the unusual treats was a leather-bound set of Ruskin’s journals, Observer books on cats and stamps, a truly expensive children’s section (new and secondhand), a decent crime section (a weakness of mine), an eclectic selection of new fiction and, most impressive of all, an impressive poetry section which, among other obscure gems, included Peter Levi’s selected poems. They also stock an array of clocks and curios from the 19th and 20th centuries.

The hardest thing to describe about any bookshop is the ambience. The Dorset Bookshop was compact, full (of books and shoppers) and welcoming – with a different timetable I could have occupied that armchair for several hours. The warmth seemed to pervade the customers who cheerfully and politely negotiated past each other in tight spots and on the stairs. 

Owners Kevin and Denny Book want their shop to be “an old-fashioned bookshop” which people “can browse and enjoy”. On the basis of my too brief, but very productive, visit, I’d say they have certainly achieved that goal.

I just can’t quite believe that, with all the books they have crammed into the shelves on both floors, they didn’t have a copy of Biggles In The Gobi.

Thank you so much to Paul for sharing the joy about this remarkable old-fashioned bookshop.

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