An esteemed academic once shocked me by stating that Amazon had made second-hand bookshops obsolete.
We were at a conference in Edinburgh, and I’d happened to show him the swag I’d picked up from Armchair Books that day (biographies of Maurice Chevalier, Robert Mitchum and John Ford, in case you were wondering!). I argued the point with him and I’m pleased to say he conceded. Still, I’ve never really trusted him, or his work, since.
I’ve spent a good deal of my life browsing the shelves of second-hand bookshops looking for treasures. As a child, I was an omnivorous collector. I’d constantly be seeking that elusive edition that would complete a set of Enid Blytons, or for the photographic covers depicting Ian Carmichael as Bertie Wooster. I was a Sherlock Holmes completist and, at one time, I would buy any edition of Conan Doyle’s stories that I could lay my hands on. I must have had 50 variants of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes alone.
That desire to accumulate has died somewhat, partly due to living in a small flat. Still, I’m an inveterate book-browser and my eye always strays to certain sections of a shop first. These days, I always hit the ‘Crime’ section first, on the lookout for Ross Macdonald paperbacks with interesting covers! What I said to that wrong-headed academic still stands – the second-hand bookshop always surprises you, leading you to unexpected places and enriching you in a way that a search engine simply cannot.
Bookshop owners are experts, labouring for the love of their wares. I’ve met some Bernard Blacks in my time, but the majority love to chat about your purchase or point you in the direction of something special. For me, browsing has always been as socially stimulating as it is intellectually.
Given all this, I’ve always been disappointed (and a little ashamed) that my town, Leamington Spa, hasn’t had a second-hand bookshop. There used to be two: the wonderfully titled Books Do Furnish a Room (where I once got some bound Strand Magazines containing The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes for £7) and the fondly remembered Portland Books. Both closed down years ago, and they left a void. Waterstones and Oxfam Books just don’t count.
So I was overjoyed when I discovered that Garrett Books had opened up on Clemens Street. Roisin and I have visited a couple of times, and I’ve taken a friend there as well. I’ve never walked away empty-handed, and most excitingly of all, they have a very well-stocked comics section which has added a few gems to my collection!
What’s clear is that Garrett Books have a real interest in becoming part of the community. Inside the door, they’ve set aside space for local artists to display their work and there are plans to hold poetry readings and possibly gigs there too. They’ve got a couple of sofas for you to relax upon, and they serve tea, coffee and cake so you can refresh yourself after a browsing session. Most winningly of all, there’s a baked potato stand out front. I had one last time I was there and it was delicious (cheese, beans and Peri-Peri sauce, YUM!).
I’m so pleased to see them there and I hope they prosper. Leamington needs a place like Garrett Books and Clemens Street really benefits from their presence. Long may they last. I’ll see you down there next weekend for a spud, alright?