My great uncle Arthur used to run an independent in my hometown of Penrith. It was tucked away behind the church, next to an old covered market where you could buy anything from saddlery to Sauron's ring. Not exactly prime location given today's high street preferences, but back then bookshops often seemed secluded, almost requiring SAS field skills to find. I liked my uncle. What wasn't to like? He'd been a pilot in the war. He drank whisky from a silver hip flask. And he had a Jack Russell called Patch that would savage my brother's trouser leg, for no discernable reason, every time we went into the shop. We went most Saturdays. My mum was a great reader. She also liked to check that Arthur, who was well into his seventies, and neither a moderate hip flask appreciator nor the tidiest shopkeeper, hadn't been crushed under a teetering stack of encyclopedias.
Despite the appeal of seeing my brother with a small angry dog attached to his trousers, going into the shop made me twitchy. It was a four-storey townhouse, rammed to the rafters with texts, old and new, that I had very little interest in. The ground floor of the building was under siege from clone-like marching legions of paperbacks, the sale of which, presumably, uncle Arthur made a living from. The second floor showcased an array of local literature – birds, flora and frolicking frogs of Cumbria – antique maps and paintings of colossal prize-winning Belted Galloway cows. The third floor was a labyrinth of dark oak passageways and shelves containing cracked, embossed spines. There were even some locked glass cases with manuscripts inside. My brother, Patch and I were not allowed to go onto the fourth floor. Lord knows what was kept there. Possibly the whisky stash. Or the Gospel of Christ on his Bike.
And that was the main problem with the place: the books. Books had to be read; they required patience and sitting still, which I hadn't quite mastered. Once broached, books were supposed to contain magical, seditious, sexy worlds and rollocking adventures. Instead they seemed like inanimate objects, withholding and unwelcoming. I was the feral, mud-bathing, tree-climbing variety of child. Why would I want to read about pirates when I could build a raft and terrorise sheep along the riverbanks?
Full story at The Guardian.