Wednesday 11 November 2015

Friends in the right places

Given how regularly I can be found inside a bookshop, most of my visits inevitably take place on my own. It's not that I don't want to encourage friends to join me, it's simply the law of averages: think of your favourite past time and then consider how often non-participating friends volunteer to take part. The results are probably comparable for me and accompanied bookshop visits.

Which is how, in the middle of this week's visit, I briefly found myself feeling a little alone (spoiler alert, the loneliness didn't last long).

The momentary loneliness happened when I left the hustle and bustle of a busy London market behind to enter The Broadway Bookshop. Stop number two on my Books are my bag bookshop crawl, it's located almost at the end of the road where the market meets the canal, with the small shop front giving no hint of the atmosphere hidden inside. Even when you first enter, the treat that awaits isn't immediately apparent, as just a small display of books is seen next to a narrow walkway by the till. It's when you squeeze past whichever customers are waiting to pay that you discover the real appeal of this bookshop.

Down a few steps you enter what feels like a sort of secret, private library packed with warmth, friendliness and beautiful books. It's a bright and cheerful place and somewhere to feel at home, which is exactly what one young family was doing during my visit: Curled up in the children's section a mother read to her young child while a man selected books to take home. It was a lovely first experience of The Broadway Bookshop and made me more than a little envious of their cosy enjoyment.

Not wanting to disturb, I got stuck into the books. And what a collection they are. This is quite definitely a literary bookshop, but not in the sense that it should scare off timid readers. It's a place where you can feel confident that no matter what you buy it'll be good. Also, if you fall in love with a particular author found on their shelves, you're almost guaranteed to find the rest of their works there too. Which is how I started dithering over a number of fascinating-sounding titles.

During all this browsing, including a brief inspection down a few more steps to a nook perfect for hiding away in, the bookshop had begun to fill up and I'd naturally been tuning in and out of the quiet reading of the mother to her child. Torn between wanting to sit down with the family and not wanting to intrude on a tender moment, I instead zoned in and out of the other conversations around me.

Conversations varied but included favoured and impossible reads, authors and where people were going for lunch. It was a great experience, made the more so by the layout of the bookshop as chatter was shared over the shelving display. However it was also where my brief moment of loneliness kicked in: here I was, in a crowd of happily chatting book lovers but without the company of a friend of my own for their opinion.

Then sense prevailed and I remembered one of the people in this backroom crowd was a bookseller. I forgot my loneliness and went to say hi to someone I knew would happily talk books without the risk of my showing myself up as a nosy parker. We compared reads (past and present), reviewed my selections and (after consultation with another bookseller) agreed on my choice of Roberto BolaƱo for the author. Next came the title itself, this took a bit more work but eventually saw me pick The Third Reich. (Which isn't a sentence I ever thought I'd write.)

Okay, so the helpful bookseller may not be my new bosom buddy and he's unlikely to make my Christmas list, but one thing is certain: We're all friends when it comes to bookshops.

The Broadway Bookshop
6 Broadway Market, London Fields, London, E8 4QJ.
Tel: 020 7241 1626.

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