Robert Gray: #BookshopDay, 'Core Values' & 'Seizing the Nettle'

For me, bookshops are important not so much for any business or economic reason, although a case could certainly be made for both. They're important because they perpetuate and enhance the idea of books as a form of communication, as a meaningful, human interaction. I write so people will read. I read, because someone had something they wanted to say to me. Books are personal. The best bookshops understand that and celebrate it, in a way that online retailers never can. --Author Tilly Bagshawe

Bookshop Day was celebrated last Saturday in the U.K. and Ireland, and I just wanted to give a shout-out to our bookselling friends across the pond. #BookshopDay is the annual centerpiece of Books Are My Bag's nationwide campaign to highlight booksellers.. This year marked the fourth since @booksaremybag first launched and BAMB distributed its one millionth tote bag, which prompted the #oneinamillion contest.

"Reaching our one millionth supporter is a hugely exciting milestone, and we're delighted to be able to show our thanks to bookshop lovers across the U.K. and Ireland with this fabulous prize," said Meryl Halls, head of membership services at the Booksellers Association. "It is wonderful to see the book industry coming together to support bookshops with the amazing prizes they have donated. We wish everyone the best of luck, and look forward to hearing all about our supporters' favorite bookshops."

A lot of good things happened on #BookshopDay.

Showing off the bags at Harris & Harris

Booksellers celebrated. A tweet from Harris & Harris Books in Clare was suitably typical and atypical: "What a splendid #bookshopday with lots of happy bookish shoppers. The homemade Rhubarb Gin and Plum Gin are going down a storm, more than the basket goodies. I know, I was surprised too."

Publishers celebrated. QuercusBooks‏ went on a #BookshopDay tour, having "hidden 13 authors from The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler in bookshops around the country. Pop in, snap a photo and sharewith #ForgottenAuthors and win this very lovely prize." An example: "Next up is @Ink84Books in Highbury! These guys have got so much love for @booksaremybag! Definitely visit if you’re in the area." 

I was particularly drawn to something Penguin Random House UK did in preparation for #BookshopDay: "To get you in the mood, we met up with four brilliant bookshops": Libreria, Gay's the Word and Dulwich Books in London and Mr. B's Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath."

At each stop, booksellers were asked a few questions. This was my favorite: What are your core values? It's a question we all ask ourselves in the book trade. It's a good question. So were their answers.

Libreria: "Always trying to re-imagine and be as creative as possible for our customers, for the people who come to Libreria and are looking for something a bit different. We want to present an experience that is completely different from not only your normal retail experience, but also your normal bookshop experience. The thematic shelving means that there's always an element of surprise, and I suppose that's partly key to why our customers come back as well."

Gay's the Word Bookshop: "Community, comprehensiveness and compassion. There's something essentially affirming for an LGBT person, especially if they're from a society or a country that doesn't have an enlightened approach to LGBT people, to come in and to be physically surrounded by a collection of writing that affirms their identity. That's an incredibly profound, political, philosophical, powerful experience. I've seen people break down in tears in that moment, and I've totally appreciated why. It goes back to Gay's the Word being an emotional space. It's a small little shop, in a small street in Bloomsbury, but it stocks a rich comprehensive range of literature, much of which has, in many ways, attempted to be suppressed over the years. So the fact that it exists and celebrates our right to articulate and our identity and ourselves is even more powerful."

Dulwich Books: "We believe in stocking a huge range of books, and absolutely not underestimating the customer. If you display and talk about books properly, you can put out choices that may not be so obvious. We're also quite political; we're all quite politically engaged here so we have certain beliefs about the democratic engagement that an independent bookshop can give you."

Mr. B's Emporium

Mr. B's Emporium: "We try to convert one book agnostic every day and enthuse ten book addicts every day. We're a home for people that are geeky about books, and an open door to those who don't know what to do in a bookshop, or where to start, who have fallen out of love with reading or who have never been in love with reading. They're the people that are even more important in a way, and it's one of the best parts of the job to be confronted like that."

For Faber, author Kate Hamer wrote that the reason many independent bookshops are currently thriving is "because so many of the indies have seized the nettle; they have become a comforting resource on the high street offering friendship, coffee and real expertise based in a passion for books. Some of them have a whole variety of bookclubs and provide comfortable and intriguing meeting places where sellers, readers and writers can meet to share the books they love."

In recent months, the core values of many indie booksellers in the U.S. have been called into action in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, as well as the fires currently ravaging Northern California. And they have responded. Seizing the nettle indeed.

--Robert Gray, contributing editor (Column archives at Fresh Eyes Now)
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