40 whisky miniatures
36 copies of How To Be a Good Wife
24 independent bookshops
3 wheelie suitcases
From Muswell Hill to Sydenham, Hampstead to Crystal Palace, south Charing Cross Road to north Charing Cross Road, we journeyed: author, editor and agent, bringing books and booze to say thank you to the independent booksellers of London.
I imagine most people don’t quite know how to react when you try to give them a miniature of whisky at 8.30 in the morning. Fortunately, independent booksellers aren’t most people.
It all began with a meandering conversation about bookshops with one of my authors, Emma Chapman. I was arguing, probably whilst jabbing a chopstick at something, that the move towards online and digital bookselling has made people forget what bricks and mortar bookshops are really good at. It’s never been about having an infinite and instant supply of every book ever published (although anyone who’s ever worked in a bookshop will know that there are some customers who seem to think all bookshops are built on top of secret underground bunkers full of stock.) And to be honest, Amazon are so good at what they do that it would be pointless to try and compete. Instead, a 21st century bookshop has to be a curated space that places the emphasis on discovering books you wouldn’t know about otherwise. ‘Look,’ I said. ‘I know I can get a better range of alcohol at cheaper prices delivered to my door if I buy through a supermarket’s website. But I still go to the pub. Why?’
Now I know the metaphor doesn’t work exactly – what is the literary equivalent of pork scratchings for a start? – but I’m pretty sure it was at that point that the Indie Book Crawl was born: to say thank you to all of the independent booksellers who work tirelessly to help us find great books. And what better way to say thank you for being a real live person in a room in front of us, not an algorithm on a server, than to go and see them in the flesh, buy them a drink and give them a book we love?
So on January 29th, we bused, we tubed, we cabbed, we ran and were welcomed by 24 independent booksellers and shown their bookshops – you can see photos here.
Some had galleries, coffee shops, sections dedicated to local authors; others had book groups and writing classes. One was playing the Jesus and Mary Chain. But all of them were bursting with hundreds of books being talked about in interesting ways by people who loved to read and talk about books. All three of us came away with tons of recommendations for what to read next. We were cheered along the way on Twitter and given lots of other wonderful independent bookshops to visit. Indeed, we all hope that the hashtag #indiebookcrawl will be used by people everywhere to share pictures and recommendations for their favourite bookshops around the country.
Have a look at the route we took here.
Next time, we’re hoping to visit bookshops outside of London. Any requests…? Let us know in the comments below.
- by Jamie Coleman
Follow me on Twitter @Jimmy329