cropped-cropped-treehouse-header.pngThe Tree House was not intended originally to be volunteer-run, but the realities of survival on the high street mean we have had to be.  It does add to the sense of it being a community venture, about people and reading and promoting the arts more than about commerce, but it is also a challenge.  I run the place full time, but have not been able to earn anything since we moved from our old premises.  So I need to find other ways to earn money, if I am to carry on running the Tree House.  This in practical terms means I need a bit more time away from the bookshop.

So I am looking for one or two volunteers who would like a regular commitment and have half a day or a day a week or a fortnight to spare.  We currently have one person who works every other Wednesday morning, and it’s a godsend – if we could find someone to do the afternoon on the days she works, that would be even better!  It would also be good to have Friday afternoons covered, as I have some opportunities to work elsewhere then.  But any days or half days would be welcomed.

You need to be confident of being at the bookshop on your own – though if we have enough suitable applicants, we can pair people up.  You need to be able to engage with customers and keep up to date with what’s happening at the bookshop.  There is always work to be done in terms of tidying and stocking the shelves, but if you have computer work to do or even want to spend some time reading (!) you would be able to do that too.  Some are keener to be physically busy than others – and the main thing is to keep the bookshop open as much as possible and be there for customers.

So if you are interested, do get in touch and we can talk more about it all – what’s involved, what level of availability you have and so on.  Email victoria@treehousebookshop.co.uk or call into the bookshop to arrange a meeting – I can’t always stop and chat then and there, but we can fix a time to discuss things if I am busy.

I am also always looking for evening help – at music events, film nights, etc – so if you are interested in being involved in those, I would love to hear from you too.

Divine books

treehouselogo-copy6.pngToday is publication day for the latest Dan Brown novel, Inferno, using Dante’s epic work as its theme.  Twitter is awash with publisher excitement, bookshops boasting plentiful supplies, signed copies and special offers, and reviews by individuals and media outlets.  Much excitement – a sure-fire seller to boost the coffers of publisher and bookshops, so who can knock that.  A writer making a good living from writing – a dream for many.

But how many copies do these booksellers stock of Dante’s Inferno, or the Divine Comedy as a whole?  How much are they promoting this cornerstone of European thought and literature?  It’s a great read, especially the Inferno with its circles of hell, its wonderful array of characters, its extraordinary imagery, its theme of punishment adapted to crimes, some crimes still very much in the news today; it’s also profound and beautiful.

dante dore

One of Gustave Doré’s fabulous engravings for Dante’s Inferno – his illustrated edition was published in 1861.

I doubt many bookshops will have piles of Dante as high as the piles of Dan Brown’s novel.  I don’t blame them too much – I fully understand the enthusiasm for something that will bring in some income in these cash-strapped times – though I hope some will take the opportunity to introduce new readers to Dante.

But the great thing about a second-hand bookshop is that it is not at the mercy of market forces in the same way.  It fulfils a different need – the need of those who are looking for something specific, something out of print, something that hasn’t made the headlines, or hasn’t done so for years, who are hoping to find inspiration among the stacks and perhaps a lovely edition of an old favourite.  Second-hand bookshops rely on diversity rather than multiple copies of the latest bestseller.  That is the joy of the enterprise – variety, depth, richness, the unexpected waiting to be discovered.

Of course second-hand copies of Dan Brown’s novels will always be good sellers, I am sure; but one of the things I found most interesting on my stall at the Kenilworth Festival on Saturday was that the books that aroused by far the most interest were the editions of Greek and, especially, Latin literature that were on display.  I was recently given a donation that included a good number of these, so it’s lovely to know there is a market for them – lovely in terms of having stock that people want, and lovely in terms of knowing that there is still such enthusiasm for such literature. The variety of people who picked these books up with a degree of alacrity was encouraging too – from a young woman studying Classics to a retired gentleman, with different ages in between, both genders well represented.

Second-hand bookshops are heartwarming places.  That lovely involuntary expression of joy when a customer chances upon an unexpected find, or something they have been looking for for a while, is always a wonderful thing to hear.

It’s been an exhausting week, but the constant and increasing sense that people still want second-hand books is a huge motivational factor in keeping the determination going and the physical and emotional energy alive.

Good luck to Dan Brown, good luck to bookshops everywhere, we need bestsellers and we need bookshops.  But all the best to Dante too, whose work inspired a thousand other stories and who will, I hope, be a regular contributor to the Tree House stock.

Lots more Tree House ideas

treehouselogo-copy6.pngStill no premises, but I’m developing lots of lovely ideas, building on the launch of the Film Club in May.  There are two or three potential venues in the town centre, and I am hoping that the article in this week’s Kenilworth Weekly News will have aroused some level of interest, however small.  These ideas are a way of establishing the project even in the absence of a physical shop.  It may even be that the best thing is to use other venues for these clubs and activities, and then I will only need a small site for the bookshop – maybe there is a business in Kenilworth that has some space they would like to sublet, even temporarily until I can find suitable permanent premises!  That would be great.

Here are some of the events I am thinking of setting up:

The Tree House Story Club – afternoons of stories and bookish activities for pre-school children

Tree House Talks  – talks and discussions mostly on art and its history, though volunteers for talks on other subjects always welcome

The Tree House Senior Citizen Book Swap – afternoons for sharing books and chatting over tea and cake

The Tree House Film Festival – a day at the movies, a mixture of short films and feature films, including talks and discussion

The Tree House literary festival – talks, writing workshops, book discussion

Student equivalents of both the above, to engage university students with The Tree House

All of these could be accompanied by book sales – I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that the main aim is to open a second-hand bookshop!

If any of this sounds good, do get in touch – good to gauge support, also good to have any offers of voluntary help!  victoria@treehousebookshop.co.uk

Wonderful stuff for booklovers

mier_prod-1 dark redNot a post about me or The Tree House itself, but an example of a good secondhand bookshop by someone who appreciates its qualities and its joys, and the importance of its existence.  It’s always so wonderful to read inspiring articles and blog posts about someone’s love for secondhand bookshops, and this one is particularly lovely:

Church Street Bookshop

It’s from a blog called The Matilda Project – have added this to the series of blogs and websites on the right hand side of my home page.  Thank you to Emily for a fab book-focused blog.

Again – we could have something as fab as the Church Street Bookshop – in fact, I think that before too much longer we will!


A new small business and community venture for Kenilworth

mier_prod-1 (2)Hello!

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!