Thursday 12 October 2017

Bookshop Day 2017

**The blog's going to have to take a brief pause, come back soon and I'll tell you more about each of these bookshops and the many others I've been visiting**

Life's a bit busy for me at the moment, with work, family, friends and cat all demanding urgent attention in such a way that the thought of five minutes to just sit and relax is unheard of. It's good to be busy, and I wouldn't be without any of it, but it means time's rushing by at unheard of speeds and I swear someone's sped up the second hand on my watch.

Which means it was probably inevitable that the evening before Bookshop Day would arrive and I'd have no idea where I was heading for my bookshop crawl. The decision had been playing on my mind, but none of the rough routes I came up with had quite worked out once put down on paper. I was panicking about it as I walked home from work, and what may have seemed like a jokey tweet was actually a genuine comment on the whimpering mental state I found myself in. Thankfully, a nearby-ish bookshop came to my aid and replied with the suggestion I visit them.

A long, long time ago* I first visited Much Ado Books in Alfriston and fell in love with its many details. Later I came to also love its booksellers for their friendly welcome and consistently spot on book recommendations, so it felt like I was taking my boyfriend to meet old friends.

Which was exactly the welcome we received.

It was a wonderful start to the day to be greeted by such a lovely couple, to talk bookshop plans, bookselling in general and catch up on news. It was also a treat to be able to give my boyfriend a tour of such a beautiful – and busy – bookshop and its barn event space. It was hard to leave when we had such a warm welcome, but The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell and The Roasting Tin cookbook by Rukmini Iyer came away with us.

Next we made a flying visit to Lewes, and the Bag of Books. It was unfortunate that our arrival coincided with a rather damp lunchtime, meaning this children's bookshop was rather quiet, but on the plus side we were able to enjoy the bright, colourful space uninterrupted and it wasn't hard to imagine a bunch of very happy children also enjoying it. Patrick Ness' The Rest Of Us Just Live here was my choice, having stuck in my mind since it was a finalist in the 2016 BAMB Readers Awards, I was pleased to find it.

Moving on, we overcame slow traffic to arrive at Kemptown Bookshop, on the outskirts of Brighton. I've often heard good things about this place, so I was looking forward to this visit, but what I hadn't expected was the joy on my boyfriend's face as he explored. He's a fan of bookshops too, but in all our time together this is the first one where he's acted like a kid in a sweetshop.

Taking up three floors, I was more than happy with the diverse, high quality fiction offering, but throw in the popular science, poetry and art and my boyfriend was in his element. He bought Ted Hughes' The Crow, Steffen Kverneland's Munch and The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, making my choice of Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson seem rather limited by comparison. While paying the bookseller and my boyfriend enjoyed an animated conversation about books and their love of Thomas Mann and it was a pleasure to see such pleasure in literature.

The final stop of the day was the Steyning Bookshop. Opened when the booksellers converted house almost 35 years ago, this had the added bonus of free tea and cake in honour of Bookshop Day. There's something particularly soothing about wandering around a bookshop with a cup of tea in your hand.

We enjoyed browsing a diverse selection of fiction and I lost my boyfriend to the chair by popular science for quite some time – leaving me to discover a steam engine made of bookcases in the children's area and a good mix of fiction. I was thrilled to finally find a title from my must-buy list: Ted Chiang's collection of short stories, Arrival, containing the story that prompted the film of that name, while my boyfriend bought The Periodic Table, by Paul Parsons and Gail Dixon.

This took our total for the day to one tote bag, four bookshops and nine books, which isn't bad going for a girl who has a one book per shop rule...

Much Ado Books
8 West Street, Alfriston, East Sussex, BN26 5UX
Tel: 01323 871222

Bag of Books
1 South Street, Lewes, East Sussex, BN7 2BT
Tel: 01273 479320

Kemptown Bookshop
91 St George’s Road, Brighton, West Sussex, BN2 1EE
Tel: 01273 682110

Steyning Bookshop
106 High Street, Steyning, West Sussex, BN44 3RD
Tel: 01903 812062

*Okay, not in general, but two and a half years is a long time in the life of this bookshop blog.

Thursday 5 October 2017

It's time to refuel

There comes a point in everyone's life when nothing else matters except the pursuit of a good lunch. During our Independent Bookshops Week bookshop crawl, that point arrived mid afternoon, somewhere between Haslemere and Petersfield.

We went from being fun, happy-go-lucky bookshoppers to ravenous beasts, the desperate need for food pushing even the excitement of books out of our minds. Fortunately, the next stop on our crawl had been recommended to us not only as a bookshop, but as a cafe. Which meant we were on a mission to find One Tree Books, marching through the Hampshire town at top speed to find food. We weren't disappointed.

The bookshop has a large street presence, but inside it's even bigger, covering two floors, with half the ground level given over to Madeleine's Kitchen at the back. At first glance this may disappoint the casual bookshop visitor, but anyone with enough hunger pains (or even just a sprinkling of sense) could tell you the balance between the two halves is spot on.

We chose a table to the side of the room, which meant we were perfectly placed to observe areas of the bookshop while relaxing in the welcoming atmosphere of the cafe. The staff were friendly and the food was divine: naughty and healthy at the same time, accompanied by delicious smoothies and rounded off with tea and cake. It was a leisurely lunch that was too good to rush and is the reason we ran out of time to visit all the bookshops on our itinerary.

Refuelled and refreshed, we had the energy to return to the task of the day: bookshopping.

While in the cafe, we'd enjoyed the sight of the bookshelves, which looked as though they were ready to cross the border into the cafe at any moment. Bookcases and tables fill the front half of the shop, crowding it with bookish treats without being too crammed in – One Tree Books really does have a luxury of space.

Fiction is on the ground floor, with a good sprinkling of non-fiction, children's and recommends, and games too, meaning many browsers may not feel the need to venture upstairs, where more treats of books, games and jigsaws (I love jigsaws) can be found.

Tempted as I was by a jigsaw, I dragged myself back downstairs empty-handed. Instead I opted for a non-fiction read, because I've heard lots of interesting comments about Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari and by now we'd realised exactly how long we'd loitered over lunch.

I was sorry to rush off, because it meant I didn't get the chance to ask why the name One Tree Books was chosen, but we'd enjoyed more than our fair share of time browsing the bookcases and devouring our lunch, so I can't really have any complaint.

One Tree Books in Petersfield was the perfect balance of bookshop and cafe, feeding mind and body, and the next time I find myself hungry in Hampshire, I know where I'll be going.

One Tree Books
7 Lavant Street, Petersfield, Hampshire, GU32 3EL
Tel: 01730 261199