It's one of those rare reads that is so perfectly what you want and need to be reading at the exact time you're reading it that it's almost impossible to find the words to explain what it is you want and need to be reading at that moment. Which will only make sense to anyone who's been lucky enough to have such an experience for themself. The book in question is certainly not one I can easily describe, and probably isn't the kind of book I'd have ever thought to ask for, had I even known how to ask for it, but The Overstory by Richard Powers has me absolutely hooked.
I bought it in the second bookshop I'm going to write about here, which is the older half of the two-bookshop 'chain' that is Jaffé & Neale. The visits were part of days two and three of my Independent Bookshops Week bookshop crawl.
But first to the younger sibling, Jaffé & Neale in Stow-on-the-Wold. Our visit coincided with lunchtime, so I was particularly pleased to say yes to tea and cake and the opportunity to take a moment to sit and relax. The refreshments were delicious as we chatted to the bookseller about this young (a year or two) bookshop, books and cake. We browsed the books from comfy chairs in a large back room that was flooded with light, and we occasionally brought a book over to our table or talked to the other browsers. It was a delightful lunch break.
Fiction (for adults and children) is found in the spacious back room we'd walked through to, with the long, thin front of the shop given over to the majority of the non-fiction. It's not a way of organisation I'm familiar with but I liked that my first view of the books was of subjects I wouldn't necessarily give much thought to. It inspired me to pay more attention and almost saw me buy from here.
The lightness and chatter we found here was a pleasant way to spend a Sunday lunchtime and I could easily see myself regularly losing an hour or two in the bright back room if I lived nearer.
Heading to the original Jaffé & Neale the next day I didn't expect the same level of relaxation and happy first thing on a Monday morning, so it was a very pleasant surprise to find an equally chirpy welcome at the grumpiest time of the week.
Polly and Patrick were wonderfully smiley as they welcomed me into their bookshop, giving no hint of the Monday blues that most of us are full of at that time of day (I should've realised no bookseller could ever be grumpy about going to work). They knew I'd visited before, so they told me how the shop had changed since then – with quite a rearranging of rooms – and put the kettle on.
While they finished their last bits of setting up I re-familiarised myself with the bookshop, delighting at the way the staggered bookcases of the revamped ground floor (which is now home to non-fiction) draw you through to the children's area, before heading upstairs.
I'd been told the upstairs front room was converted into a reading room, but I hadn't quite anticipated how stunning a sight it would be (my photos don't do it justice so you'll have to visit to find out what I'm talking about). The wall of books is really something as you walk into the light-filled room, and I wasn't the only person to think so. By the time I arrived here another fan had set herself up in one of the comfy chairs facing across the room from the bookcases, with her coffee and laptop and ready to work. It was an envy-inducing sight.
Having spent a lifetime in publishing and bookshops, Polly and Patrick are both incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their subject. A former president of the Booksellers Association, Patrick tutors others in an introduction to bookselling course and it was a pleasure to talk about everything he does to encourage and support the bookshop community.
We paused in our conversation to pose for a photo, which was when Patrick insisted on holding his current* favourite book, The Overstory by Richard Powers (you know where this is going).
I rarely buy hardback books because I like to be able to carry my current read everywhere with me, but in the few words he said about why he'd fallen for the book I knew I couldn't leave without it and my only regret – if you can call it that – is that I'm being forced to read it slowly because of the lack of portability. That said, it's a nice change to have a book that can only be read when curled up at home, comfy and warm and free from the distractions of the world.
In fact, I have the same difficulty tearing myself away from this book as I did from these two bookshops. Bravo Jaffé & Neale!
Jaffe and Neale
8 Park Street, Stow-on-the-Wold,
Gloucestershire GL54 1AQ
Tel: 01451 832000
Jaffe and Neale
1 Middle Row, Chipping Norton,
Oxfordshire OX7 5NH
Tel: 01608 641033
*If you want to hear Patrick at his most enthusiastic, ask about his all-time favourite book.