Wednesday 19 March 2014

Modern game plan breaks with tradition

It's not often my various interests combine, but a road trip to watch an ice hockey match proved the perfect opportunity to take in a new bookshop.

Unfortunately the game - Guildford Flame v Sheffield Steeldogs - was on a Sunday, the booksellers' day of rest, meaning I couldn't just pop along to the town's local indie. Not one to be deterred by a little thing like a couple of closed for the day signs, I volunteered to drive my friends to the game and set about finding an open bookshop somewhere between home and Guildford (and one not too off the beaten track for my unsuspecting passengers).

Leatherhead, a very, very short drive from the M25, saved the day in the form of Barton's Bookshop.

Found on a corner at the bottom of the high street, the stunning (Tudor?) building stands out from the modernity of its surroundings, as a beacon calling book lovers home. Selling new books in an historic setting, this bookshop has all the elements of a regular bookshop without following the regular game plan.

The first difference of note is the windows, large as they may be, they're at a height that limits the potential for the traditional displays of books, instead a random assortment of casts of cutlery, crockery, and even the odd dinosaur hang in lieu of blinds and demand further investigation from inside (they looked so good I'm tempted to recreate the look when I move home this summer).

Inside, a maze of tall shelves had me exploring with the excitement of a child as I struggled not to launch into a run, so tempting was every approaching corner. And when I finally slowed down it was because I'd stumbled across a gorgeous Chesterfield sofa by a wood burning stove, complete with two large cuddly toys inviting me to join them for a cuddle and a read.

Once I'd finally got over the excitement of exploring I remembered the reason for my visit: to buy a book. And so I hunted down the recommends table, my favourite place to start bookshopping and tap into the fictional personality of a bookshop.

But it wasn't there. Instead I found the other major - and possibly most controversial - difference between Barton's and other bookshops. Because instead of a table there were two bookcases for 'new books', and all the books were mixed up. Unexpectedly, I loved it.

Ordinarily if you were to suggest I look at a shelf of non-alphebatised books I'd break into a cold sweat and surreptitiously start to put them back in order. But at Barton's Bookshop I loved that these two rogue bookcases dragged me away from the norm, forcing me to really look, rather than hunting out specific names. I met a lot of new authors while stood by these shelves, with my eventual selection a page-turner from the shop's book club choices, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

And then, after a brief chat with the friendly bookseller - and a few bookshop recommendations for the future - it was time to go when my friends collected me to continue our journey.

As for the ice hockey? Our team lost, but with a new book in my bag and a new bookshop met I was still a winner.

Barton's Bookshop
2 Bridge Street, Leatherhead, Surrey, KT22 8BZ
Tel: 01372 362988

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