Tuesday 29 September 2009

The Perfect Bookshop?

It's second-hand of course, not new (boringly predictable) or antiquarian (forbiddingly expensive). The premises small-to-middling, with every inch of floor and shelf space put to good use, but still room (just) to move around. The shelves well stocked with all the categories you'd expect - and a few you wouldn't ('Elderly Children's', 'Alcohol') - intelligently but not rigidly classified, allowing for surprises. The stock in good condition, every vintage from early Victorian to near-new, well chosen, with the emphasis on literature but some popular fiction too (scrupulously alphabetical, despite the impression of disorder). No obvious rubbish, and everything reasonably priced (and, when you visit, a half price sale is on). The odd stack of overspill books on the floor and in odd corners, and a small section devoted to miscellaneous bric a brac - a few prints and paintings, masks and fancy headdresses, some china, old-fashioned children's toys and trinkets - not to mention, elsewhere, well chosen greetings cards, and jars of home-made chutney, preserves and honey. Cheerfully friendly, but not twee, messages dotted about the place - and a cheerfully friendly, but not twee, proprietor who's happy to retreat from the secene and leave you alone to browse... Can such a shop exist in these times? Reader, it can - and I was there yesterday. I shan't name it, but will simply say that, if you find yourself in Osterley (the house, Osterley Park, is worth a visit - and the grounds look very well on a sunny autumn day), look out for it. And there's even an equally cheerfully f, but not t, cafe opposite.


  1. Retreating from the shop to let you browse unselfconsciously indicates an exceptionally well-bred bookmonger.

    Nothing worse than having to make a sympathy purchase or perform some wallet-patting Pavement Panto (TM) to extract oneself from his hopeful gaze.

  2. Ah Pavement Panto TM - welcome back Brit! By the way, there's also a box of reading glasses in the shop for customers' use - and if you find a pair better than your own, it's yours for a small price. The whole place strikes me as a labour of love - a rare thing in bookshops - I hope they don't go under, they deserve to thrive...

  3. As a pretty hardcore second-hand bookshop addict, I concur wholeheartedly!

    One thing that you mention is the grouping of books - this is very important - quite near my office is one of the largest 2nd hand bookshops in the country (lucky me!)- problem is, every shelf is alphabetical rather than by genre/ era, which means that in the fiction section, you have to wade through every single shelf if you're not sure what kind of book you're looking for. Sometimes this can be a pleasure, but if pressed for time it can be a mighty nuisance.

  4. Mind you, secondhand bookshops did not rise well to my challenge of haf-a-dozen yeas ago.
    "I'm looking for a book that's out of print."
    "Yes, sir, what is its title?"
    "What is the name of this book?"
    "No, sir, you have to tell me."
    "No, "What is the name of this book?" is the name of this book."
    "Sorry, sir............"

  5. Nige, please ask your bookshop owner to open a branch in the Scottish Borders. we have two types up here, as soon as you walk in the door they watch you like hawks, the striped jersey maybe? or, and how about this Worm,'Britain's biggest secondhand bookstore', Barter Books in Alnwick, based in the old railway station, big big big, cold cold cold, expensive expensive expensive. Seems also to be on the Sunday visit list of the garden centre people.

  6. I think that a topic on this subject has already appeared on this blog, but just like to add that even though I will love dusty independent secondhand bookshops forever, I must say that I always end up purchasing more books in the Oxfam, as they simply seem to have more books that I'm after (and a faster refresh rate)
    and they are cheaper