For a long time I have been a vociferous opponent of the Kindle and other e-readers. I vowed I would never own one until the day that paper books no longer existed. Part of the pleasure of reading for me comes from the weight, the texture and the smell of the paper, not to mention the array of colours, fonts and designs of the jackets. They say not to judge a book by it’s cover, but how could I not buy something that looks this beautiful:-
The idea that some little digital device could ever even begin to replicate never mind replace the pleasure of reading a physical book is totally ludicrous to me.
But I have cracked. My birthday is coming up and I have one item on my wish list – a Kindle.
The fact is, however much I love real books (and I really, really do), there is no getting around the fact that they are bulky. This year, part of our upcoming trip to Portugal is going to involve bumming round on a beach, and when I have beach holidays I read a lot. The last time we had a beach holiday was to Ibiza in 2011. We went away for a week, I packed two books, I brought home 4 and I could have got through more had it not been for the expense of buying English language books abroad. So from a travelling perspective, the Kindle just makes sense. Especially when considering my carry on challenge this year – I just will not have the space to pack several books into my backpack.
I am determined not to let owning a Kindle replace reading real books for me, and if I ever need something to remind me of my love of books, I recently visited an absolute gem of a bookshop – Main Street Trading Company in St Boswells.
My parents actually discovered this on a journey back from Edinburgh. They sent me a picture and I knew that I would love it, so I then made the 90 minute journey from Newcastle to check it out for myself.
Firstly, it is not just a bookshop. It is also a cafe, a deli and sells homewares. In the digital age where independent retailers face stiff competition from online retailers offering huge discounts and the growth of e-books, the bookstores that will survive are those that offer not just books, but an experience. Walking through the door, you first come to the cafe section with it’s array of tempting home made cakes and tables made from reclaimed school desks complete with ink wells. Heading into the main store, you arrive at the books which are so thoughtfully laid out and arranged. It is not huge, but it feels like it has been put together by someone who knows and loves books. It feels like every single book has been thought about and chosen individually. It also has a really welcoming atmosphere – it is not quiet, no one bothers you – it is the kind of place that you could while away hours browsing the shelves before popping back into the cafe with your new purchase to get stuck straight in with a hot drink and generous slice of cake.
The one downside of shopping for books in an independent bookshop is that there are no discounts available. This is not a shop where you will find half price books or 3 for £10 offers. I knew as I was browsing the shelves that I could get everything on sale there for a third or even a half less than the price in the shop if I went home and ordered it from Amazon. It is hard to justify spending extra when trying to save for travel or pay off debts or just trying to make ends meet. But buying a book from an independent bookshop is about the experience of losing yourself in browsing and handling books, and supporting a trade which is seriously under threat. It was lovely to see just how many people were actually browsing and buying books. Main Street Trading Company really does provide a model for the independent bookshop of the future.
I walked out with two purchases. If I am going to buy a book for full price, it is going to be one that can justify it’s price tag, and so my first purchase was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I have read The Secret History and loved it, and I have heard universally good things about her latest book. My second one was Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey. I never, ever buy new hardback books (with the exception of Harry Potter) and so to buy a hardback is a rarity for me, but it just appealed to me with it’s premise of a seventy year old missing person mystery to be solved, by a protagonist who has forgotten all the clues.
If I had bought these books on Amazon, I would have saved around £10. But the extra was definitely worth it for me, and I am sure that I will be back in the future and buying more again. It is just off the A68, which is one of the major routes from England to Scotland, and so it makes a very easy stop on the way.
Finally, you might notice there is a severe lack of pictures on this post. I was enjoying losing myself in the books so much that it did not even occur to me to think about blogging about it at some point in the future. That is what real bookshops can offer than Amazon never can – total immersion in an experience.