Some things you can do in a bookshop that you cannot do online…

It’s debateable, to what extent, bookshops have really woken up to the challenge of online retailing.

They have certainly seen their turnover drop, for a number of different reasons. Some have tried to adapt, offering, for example, more ‘book-signings by the author’, but the response in general seems to have been somewhat anaemic.

While online can continue doing what it does best, there are many things the traditional bookshop space can give the reader that the internet will never be able to provide.

It’s important that these things are recognised and celebrated by those of us who are book junkies!

At the end of the day, it’s not all about price.

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People can be observed as they are. The writer can be observed as she isn’t.

You can meet the scribe before she is shelved as ‘signed by the author’ in her own absence, first step on the way to singing the bargain shadowy basement blues@ 4.99 a pop.

You can encounter the books that have been lying in wait, just for you, it seems. These are not the same books others have read, in close proximity to the book you are now holding in your hand.

The other people are readers, just like you. They can have their personal recommendations shaken out of them with just a smile. The vagaries of memory can be set straight (Is that the author of?) there and then, something a computer screen will struggle with.

You can give the tired, overdrawn yet still cheerful bookshop owner a few bills to keep the show on the road, to make the space work for all the things in it that don’t work, way they are supposed to.

You can have a cup of tea or coffee, served up with a smile you can smile back at.

The token of your enthusiasm can be taken away, on the spot, without having to wait for the postman to find you out at work, a wet week later. The book is the book you are getting, not some other book, dog-eared and page-creased because something mechanically-armed bumped into it, in the warehouse.

At readings, words can be heard as a living presence, a force field of energy that isn’t quite the same when it’s served up on CD to the half-engaged ear. The mind can wander and be brought back to itself by a sentence. The listener can erupt onto a road in Rhode Island or hear what is to be placed on a stone table in Vermont, like someone who needs to be woken up, once again, to the story of herself.

You can leave, book in the crook of your arm, into the night, out into the city, with the author’s words still humming as a fresh sound in your skull, and a little something else that cannot be reduced to words: the finetime of hearing another world being brought to you, gratis, on the house we are all inhabitants of.

Pat Upton

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