I am writing this on a day when a number of high street retailers have gone into receivership. Doom and gloom abound regarding the future of books and bookshops. Yet I am still excited about my new venture: to open a not-for-profit secondhand bookshop in Kenilworth. Am I crazy? Almost certainly, but not in a bad way.
What makes me think this is a good idea? Well, I don’t for one moment believe that the death knell has been sounded for the supposedly humble book. Yes, e-readers are offering a challenge – though I would say they complement rather than damage conventional books. The book is surely one of the greatest pieces of technology in the modern world. Simple, easy to use, portable, aesthetically pleasing and more besides. A book is a satisfying object on an intellectual, practical and emotional level. What more do we want from technology?
There is still a vast number of books not available electronically, and also a vast number out of print that will probably never be available electronically. I believe there is still a place on the high street for a good, quality-driven secondhand bookshop, and that is what I aim to set up. A bookshop that stocks as wide and deep a variety of stock as I can get my hands on, offering a service to try to track down any book we don’t have. A bookshop that promotes the intellectual and social benefits of literature and reading. A bookshop that brings together all sectors of the community to enjoy these benefits.
I envisage a space that will draw people of all ages to come in and browse, enjoy a cup of coffee or tea as they do so, where they will want to spend time. A space where the focus is very much on books and reading, but where we can host small scale community events – talks, readings, writing workshops, music events, films and more, by and for local people. Storytelling afternoons for children, a space for people who want somewhere to write, competitions, raffles, quizzes for all ages, with prizes selected from other local independent retailers and businesses. The ideas are still developing. All profits once overheads and staff wages are met will go to local charities and events.
To start with, we are going to organise regular coffee afternoons, probably at Jubilee House (the council are giving me wonderful support and help!), where books will be on sale and different book-related talks and activities will take place to give a flavour of the enterprise and to establish ourselves while we find a suitable permanent site. Please check back or follow this blog for details of these – they will be advertised elsewhere too.
Some of you may have filled in my online survey, and will notice that I have changed the name of the shop – I had thought of calling it Middlemarch Books, after Warwickshire-born George Eliot’s great novel, but felt it needed something a bit snappier. My hope is that the shop will become a bit like a tree house – a flexible space that can be a sort of den, or a quiet space, or a community space, both a retreat and a social hub. That may all sound contradictory, but with a bit of organisation and creativity it will be possible to enable customers to use the space as they wish.
I will update this blog as things progress, and with more detail about what I hope to achieve, as well as sharing literary bits and pieces I find interesting, and posting a few things about my own love of books and reading. In the meantime, look at the blogroll on the right of this page for links to existing fabulous independent bookshops, and watch the Scarthin Books video to be truly inspired!