'The Bookshop Book' by Jen Campbell

Did you know that ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was banned in China in 1931?

Apparently Lewis Carroll’s novel was banned because ‘General Ho Chien thought it was offensive to depict animals talking as if they were people’. If you would enjoy reading a book full of similarly amusing information about books and bookshops then look no further: ‘The Bookshop Book’ will suit you perfectly.

What’s it about?

Ducks and golf. No, not really. Er, see the title. Books and bookshops, book sellers and authors, bookish trivia and book related chatter. Rather than chapters the book is loosely organised by geography: Europe, Africa, North America, Central and South America, Australasia and Asia each have their own section, though anecdotes and information from Europe and North America dominate.

What’s it like?

The paper equivalent of a box of chocolates. Dip in a hand randomly and you may find a soft caramel that melts quickly in your mouth (a wonderful thing or a bookish fact) or a sticky toffee that gives minutes of chewing (a chat with an author or bookseller). One chocolate may not be exactly what you were in the mood for, but that’s okay because you can move on quickly to sweeter, more appealing tastes, confident in the overall quality of the box.

Like chocolates, this book may be best reserved for multiple sittings so you can fully appreciate the diverse flavours and avoid the risk of gorging yourself to the point of boredom. Of course, you may be the kind of reader who can happily enjoy nibble after nugget without ever requiring respite, but I suspect the most enjoyment will be gained if you take regular rest breaks.

Campbell entertains from the opening pages, informing readers on page two of the introduction of a Florentine bookseller who was ‘so outraged that books would no longer be written out by hand that he closed his bookshop in a fit of rage and became the first person in history to prophesy the death of the book industry‘. (I wonder what he would have made of ereaders?)

What will I learn?

Among other golden nuggets, you will learn:

  • What the likes of Brian Aldiss, Rachel Joyce, Ian Rankin and a wide range of other modern authors think about books and bookshops.
  • That it is possible to sell almost anything alongside books if you have the right audience. I’m not just talking about coffee and cake here; think alcohol, cows, even hiking equipment.
  • That any building can be converted into a bookshop and some bookshops travel, while, after some difficulties with their premises, Brazenhead Books in New York technically doesn’t exist.
  • That some bookstores sell old books, some sell new books, some sell a mixture of both, but at least one bookshop sells only one book.

And much more besides. There are also several colour photographs of some of the bookshops mentioned.

I like the sound of this; tell me more.

This a pleasurable read brimming with minor details about how various bookshops are run and have developed, all lovingly curated for the readers’ enjoyment.  The positive, relaxed language used in the book’s subheadings helps to create a sense of almost childlike wonder that reminds us all just magical and life-transforming books and literacy can be.

books are magic

Many of the stores told are inspirational: libraries travelling by camel; people pursuing their dreams of opening a bookshop; and shops raising funds for charities promoting literacy. Just like Jen Campbell’s first two books, ‘Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops’ (reviewed here) and ‘More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops’, this would make a super gift for any bibliophiles in your life.

“My location is…Bookshop!”

If you’ve ever considered opening your own bookshop, this could well give you the necessary nudge – Campbell makes it all sound like so much fun! Now the only question is, should you restrict your stocklist to books or should you branch out into suitable companion items? Sunday lunches, camels, cocktails…the options seem endless.

What would your ideal bookshop sell? How would you arrange the books? And would you do the selling yourself or would you just sit and read, savouring the bookish atmosphere? So much to consider!

‘The Bookshop Book’
Jen Campbell
2014, Constable, hardback