I love trees. (The one pictured is in our glorious Abbey Fields.) And not only because they provide the raw material for books, although I am supremely grateful to them for that! I especially love decidous trees, because they change with the seasons, which is a wonderful thing to watch. My favourite thing in the whole of nature is a mature oak tree. They are great for hugging – they have wonderful bark that is rough yet soft, and although you can’t get your arms around the trunk, that is wonderful too, as the tree gives back a comforting sense of being bigger than you in every way, stronger, protective. You may now be starting to write me off as a hippie kook, but while there is a litte hippieness in my heart and soul, I am simply someone who loves a tactile relationship with the things I love!
What does this have to do with secondhand bookshops? Well, I have called my planned bookshop The Tree House in part because it reflects how important I think trees are in our world – the world would not survive without them and the oxygen they produce. They are a crucial part of the ecosystem, providing habitats for all sorts of creatures, giving their leaves back to the soil, often producing food for humans as well as animals. And thinking about my bookshop as a community project, that is very much the atmosphere I want to create – a sense of something firmly rooted in the community, providing a sheltering space that then branches out into the unknown. That’s what a community hub can do, but more to the point it’s what books can do – that’s why I want to combine the two. We live in an age where intellectual activities are not celebrated – and by intellectual I don’t mean that these activities are dry or purely cerebral or just for people who are very clever, but I mean activities that demand that we engage our brains, and encourage and enable us to strive to reach our potential by focusing on what is below the surface and engaging with other people and the world around us in a more thoughtful way.
Books are not just a means of passing the time, they are lifechanging experiences – the good ones, anyway! They tell us more about what it is to be human, they feed our inner lives and our imaginations (another aspect of humanity that often seems a little underrated!), and make us more creative in our engagement with the world.
The tree is therefore a wonderful image for me of the heart of a reading community – deeply rooted, creating a sheltering and nurturing space, pushing us out into a richer existence as individuals and as a community. Reading can do this! And coming together around books and literary adventures is like planting a forest.
The government wants to sell off our forests. Our libraries are under threat. I see these two things as related – the very things that give life to our planet and our community are seen as superfluous when what is needed, supposedly, is to generate more wealth and get rid of spaces that do not do this. We need trees; we need a sense of community. We can all sit in our homes ordering books over the internet, or downloading them to our Kindles and Kobos and iPads, or we can protect our libraries and bookshops and share this fabulous experience of enjoying books and learning from each other. You can’t browse properly on Amazon – who knows what you might find next to the book you are looking for in a bookshop? You can’t savour an e-book, re-reading sections with ease and making notes in the margins. (I know because I own a Kindle, and I’ve tried! I am not against e-readers at all, they are jolly useful in some circumstances, but they do not provide the same experience and potential as reading a book.)
Well, in my opening post I asked if I was crazy, and decided I almost certainly was. You may now think the certainty is even greater! But I am passionate about books and reading and providing a space that focuses on books but also draws in, and reaches out to, the community in imaginative ways. I want to make this happen in Kenilworth – I would love to think the good people of Kenilworth would love to see it happen too!