Sunday 25 November 2018

A good heart

First impressions are a big thing these days, with so many demands on our time and attention that we're often distracted from one shiny thing to the next, whizzing through life and hardly having time to stop and consider what's in front of us.

When I arrived at Borzoi Bookshop in the heart of Stow-on-the-Wold I'd been racing through an Independent Bookshops Week bookshop crawl, so I'd already visited a lot of other bookshops and could easily have been in too much of a hurry to appreciate how special this unassuming destination is. Set in a lovely historic building, the shop front is made up of welcoming red door and two simple windows which offer only a glimpse of the treats inside. It's a far cry from the large picture windows and colourful displays many bookshops rely on to lure in readers and I loved this contrast and the feeling of cosy history that came with it.

Borzoi Bookshop is more than 30 years old and was named for the breed of dog that was the original furry bookseller, which I thought was a nice touch. I don't know how the bookshop has changed in that time, but the space I explored had the feeling of somewhere that has been cherished for years – and continues to be loved today. The low ceilings added to the sense of history, while the good variety of new titles brings everything into the modern day. The combination was comforting and reassuring and exactly what I've come to hope for in a long-serving bookshop.

The first room is snug but still larger than expected, with Molie the (thankfully quite small) furry bookseller relaxing near the door and two human booksellers available to answer questions and keep everything in order. They welcomed me in and did an excellent job of greeting browsers or leaving them in peace as preferred, with me obviously choosing to dive into conversation. This was mainly with the booksellers, but also with the other customers who'd popped in to collect an order, ask about the publication date of various new books or simply see what they might read next. It was a perfect example of a well-loved bookshop set in the heart of its community.

Equally importantly, for all of the questions I heard asked the booksellers' knowledge was impeccable and satisfied children and adults alike. Further evidence of their bookish genius was found in the content of the bookshelves and in their recommendation of my next new book.

I'd commented on titles and publishers as I'd wandered around the maze of shelves – there's a lot to be discovered if you venture beyond the front room – and almost picked a book by myself but wasn't quite sure if it was right for me. A chat about what I've read previously and what I was looking for next saw the bookseller politely agree that maybe my choice wasn't the one for this time, instead gently steering me to some alternative titles. From the selection put forward, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee stood out and having since devoured the book I can confirm the booksellers' instinct was spot on.

It takes a lot of courage, confidence and tact to be able to help a browser change their mind – especially when their choice of book is not bad but more not for this time – and I was very impressed by how well the bookseller achieved this, and am very grateful they did!

Which really sums up my feelings about this delightful bookshop. Borzoi Bookshop is not the flashiest or the most glamorous of indies I've visited, but it has a good heart, great books and exceptional booksellers.

The Borzoi Bookshop
Church Street, Stow-on-the-Wold,
Gloucestershire GL54 1BB
Tel: 01451 830268

Monday 5 November 2018

Taking stock of another person's joy

Sometimes, the best way to enjoy something is by seeing the joy another person is experiencing. I loved the last stop on day three of my Independent Bookshops Week bookshop crawl, but whatever I felt for Woodstock Bookshop is nothing compared to the reaction of my boyfriend.

We'd spent two days touring bookshops and although my enthusiasm was still high, my boyfriend was obviously still keen but flagging a little. He dawdled on the walk to the bookshop, pausing to take photos of our surroundings so that I decided to leave him to it once we'd spotted the bookshop on the road ahead. I therefore arrived without him, taking in the two snug rooms and remarkable number of people they could hold as I began to look over the shelves. It appeared to be a lovely space that was very well filled.

As I made this assessment the dawdler arrived and began to look around. He looked happy enough, then I lost him and the next thing I knew he was kneeling on the floor to get a closer look. In the two plus years since he joined me on this adventure I've never seen him go to so much effort to look at the books, and this behaviour continued for the entire time we were in the bookshop.

To be fair, Woodstock Bookshop really is a place worth going to the effort to explore, but to see my boyfriend so engrossed really emphasised to me how good the variety of stock is here. We'd visited a lot of bookshops and yet here he was, re-enthused about bookshopping and excited by the variety of previously unseen titles in front of him.

It would be impossible for me to list off all that was special about the stock here, but for a bookshop with incredibly limited space there really was an unusual and unexpected offering of everything. Non-fiction included an array of more unexpected titles in every genre, while I found a particularly high volume of translated and/or independent publishers on the fiction shelves. Children also had a generous and well-stocked area to enjoy. I honestly don't know how Woodstock Bookshop manage to fit it all in, but I'm very impressed that they do.

My boyfriend had no trouble choosing two books to buy here, Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich and Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth. I took slightly longer because I'd been so distracted enjoying his delight, eventually selecting The Infatuations by Javier Marias.

Woodstock Bookshop is a truly tiny place but has such big personality – both in books and with the friendly bookseller – that I can happily recommend it as the reason I will be returning to visit Woodstock. Which is quite a coup considering Blenheim Palace is down the road.

The Woodstock Bookshop
23 Oxford Street, Woodstock,
Oxfordshire OX20 1TH
Tel: 01993 812760