If you’ve been following this blog (and I hope you have), you will remember that this isn’t my first post about a bookshop. But since that post was about the incomparable Shakespeare and Company (probably the best bookshop in the world) I think we can safely say this is my first post about other Brilliant Bookshops.
I am a big fan of books, libraries, and bookshops. In my view, a house ain’t a home unless each room is groaning under the weight of as many tomes as you can fit in without compromising your need to have furniture. If I ever get on Desert Island Discs I’ll not be taking music but as many of my favourite novels as I can pack. Husband and family would (of course) be the first to be saved in a fire, but books would have to be next. The brave new world of Kindle and all its electronic rivals fills me with dread. An electronic gizmo cannot match the excitement of feeling a front cover and opening pages. The world would be a joyless place without a shop filled with shelves of books to browse. But, the truly independent bookshop is a rare creature these days, and each one needs our help to survive. So, when I come across such a place, I will shout out the news as loud as possible.
So first up, just because I was there this weekend, is the marvellous Scarthin Books of Cromford (in the Derbyshire Dales). We were staying just down the road, and on Friday night as I was telling everyone about the wonders of Shakespeare and Company, somebody mentioned that Scarthin Books was a bit similar. So, of course, I had to go. I wasn’t disappointed. Cromford is the only kind of village a city girl like me could live – it has arts and craft shops,a lively looking community centre, nice pub, beautiful hills, and of course a 3 storey bookstore that’s simply crammed with books. Like all great independents, it is wonderfully quirky. Little quizzes are posted on the shelves teasing readers to identify texts and authors. Win and you get a fiver, though I couldn’t get any of them. The man on the desk said the one that really baffled me (something to do with war and ideologies) was so obscure that only one person had ever got it. He wouldn’t tell, and I’m still wondering where it came from… Staff recommendations are stuck on the wall (and I know Waterstones do this, but here they felt really personal each person writing detailed reasons why they liked a book). The cataloguing system is rather random (I had to ask to find where Fiction “A” was) but that adds to the charm, and the knowledgeable woman at the desk knew a) who Chimomanda Ngoze Adichie was b) had read her books and loved them and c) could point out where they were. I like that in a bookshop.
They do pretty much every kind of book, new and second hand, and upstairs there’s a great children’s section, with only one polite plea not to leave kids alone as they’ve had a bit of vandalism. A fair enough request I thought. The other great feature upstairs is the surprising cafe through a wooden door, which looks like a lovely place to eat. We didn’t have time to stop, but my friends tell me that you can order lunch, go back into the children’s section and they’ll call you when it’s ready. Making it a great family day out, and ensuring that you leave with bags of books under your arm. They also have regular discussions in the cafe under the title “Cafe Philosophique”, a lovely idea that gives the place a definite French flavour. As I went to pay for my purchases (Roddy Doyle, A Star called Henry, and Irene Nemirovsky, Suite Francaise, in case you are interested), I noticed a little picture frame with the words Shakespeare and Company. And, I thought, as I left – if any bookshop has a right to consider itself an English cousin – it’s Scarthin Books. So, if you’re ever in Derbyshire for even just a weekend, make sure you don’t miss the chance to go. Spend the day, have your lunch, buy lots of books, and keep the bookselling trade in business.