Friday, September 10, 2010


By Russel D McLean

Tonight (sans camera since I didn't charge the batteries, but take my word for it, I was there), I attended the (re)opening party of the Edinburgh Bookshop. The bookshop – a fully functioning independent – grew from the Children's Bookstore in Edinburgh and is run by the not only knowledgeable but quite fearsome (in the best sense) Vanessa, a woman with the kind of drive and vision to truly run an independent. I have been in to the store a few times during visits to Edinburgh and have been impressed as a customer and an author. They make no promises to stock, but you get the impression that Vanessa and her staff are really paying attention and that if they don't stock a title they probably have a reason.

There are not a huge number of indy bookstores in Scotland. Or at least not many that seem to have crossed my path (if you are or you know a Scots indy, let me know in the comments). Those that we do have, I try to support as much as possible because I am a believer in the power of booksellers – be they passionate independent or well-informed chain – and think that, along with music stores, the bookstore is one of those places we truly need as consumers* in a real and physical sense.

Why? Because books – and often music – are commodities that can still be sold on the basis of passionate pushers. One of the joys of bookselling (and I've been involved in the front lines of the trade for close to ten years now although I don't mention my employer just in case I say something as a writer to embarras them!) is that you watch other people discovering books. The apparently idle banter between bookseller and customer creates passionate consumers, sometimes every bit as passionate as the pushers.

The first time I went into the Edinburgh bookshop I encountered a kind of passion and expertise I hadn't seen in a while. This was before I let them know of my status as “published author”. Now when I'm in the city, if I can I pop my head in the door. Because I felt welcome, because they made me want to support them. Its the same with a Dunkeld independent whom I will always hold in regard as they were the ones who sold my book to Rab C Nesbitt's “wife”, Elaine C Smith and earned me a mention in her books of the year for the Glasgow Herald. This was something they didn't have to do, but they did.

Of course not all bookstores (indy or not) are wonderful. I know of one store I can't be arsed returning to because I went in several times, found myself as both a customer and an author rebuffed with an air of “and why should we care?” that wouldn't have been out of place in an episode of Black Books. I'm not asking to be an exclusive customer or for VIP treatment, but you could at least be polite about things.

But bookshops in general – the good ones, the ones that make us passionate about books – are places to be cherished and supported. I beg, plead, with you not to use bookstore staff as mere resource and then go get the books off amazon. Yes, I know there's a cost thing but even if you bought one book in every three out of a real shop, you'll realise their value. And you'll help to maintain a service that – trust me – you'll miss when its gone.

I love bookstores. I love booksellers. As a reader, and as a writer, I have encountered so many passionate and knowledgeable sellers, people who remind us why we read, who can help us discover new and unread (at least to us) voices. I love to hunt around online, but nothing beats a bookstore. And if we don't use them, we'll soon realise how much we miss them.

So here's to stores like the Edinburgh Bookstore, carrying the torch for the joy of books. And may they, like so many other fine stores the world over, go from strength to strength and keep The Word alive.

*by the way, just to remind you of that US tour, you'll notice that every store visited is an indy. This is not entirely coincidence.

1 comment:

Peter Rozovsky said...

Amen on indies. And it's not as if the chains are going to have most of what you want to read anyhow.
All my pleasurable shopping experiences have come at indies: No Alibis, Sleuth of Baker Street, Murder by the Book.

If you're in the U.S., you can find an independent bookshop near you by clicking here. Do such lists exists for other countries?
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"