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Six authors on what bookshops mean to them

Posted 28th Nov 2018

‘This spell-binding collection will carry you off to shops near, far, lost and imagined’ – Mail on Sunday

‘All these writers convey the magic of bookshops’ – Guardian

What comes to mind when you think of bookshops? Perhaps its a favourite independent you frequent weekly? Or maybe a long defunct secondhand shop from your childhood springs into your mind’s eye? In the pages of the gorgeous new paperback edition of Browse: Love Letters to Bookshops Around the World, 14 brilliant writers ponder what bookshops mean to them, here are just a few samples from their insightful, enchanting essays.

Ali Smith
The smell of paperback ink and paper was its own intoxication. The books seemed to tower higher than the room. I went, and so did most of the money I earned on a Saturday, £10 a day working in the restaurant at Littlewoods where the other Saturday girls made fun of me for spend- ing my pay packet on so many books every week, and the full-time women were unexpectedly kindly about my being so bookish. What did you get this time?

Juan Gabriel Vásquez
Bookshops, for a writer, are places of transformation. When a writer is asked to choose his favourite bookshops, he won’t generally pick the one he most often visits, but rather the scenes that inspire his nostalgia: the nostalgia of starting out. He’ll remember the tough years when his literary vocation was an unresolved compulsion, because there is no fixed and sure method of turning a novice into a novelist.

Ian Sansom
In 1991 I resigned from my job at Foyles Bookshop on the Charing Cross Road in London. I’d worked there for two years, two years which may or may not have been the happiest two years of my life: it depends on how you look at it; sometimes it can be difficult to tell.

Iain Sinclair
The stock in Bookmans Halt (no apostrophe, please) is organic: a colony of contented lifers. Armpit tomes mature in the perpetual twilight like mushrooms in a damp cellar. The critical mass of dead paper sustains the integrity of the building. It smells, in the best way, of suspended mortality.

Michael Dirda
As a boy, I could lose myself utterly in a book; now I seem to lose myself only in used bookstores […] my heart still leaps with childlike joy at the sight of row after row of old books on shelves.

Stefano Benni
I wasn’t yet thirty and just starting out as a writer when I first entered the dark, mysterious cave of La Palmaverde. I was overawed. I roamed around in that semi-darkness, which smelled of paper and inks and was warmed only by an electric heater. But after those first encounters, a beautiful friendship was born.

Purchase Browse: Love Letters to Bookshops Around the World >