Today I made a special trip to Bath to visit Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights, a bookshop that I had only heard about a few days previously. Slightly off the main thoroughfares of Bath, the shop is in a nice quiet street that is easily accessible. And what a bookshop. Covering two shop-fronts, the shop has lovely feel, the furniture and decor beautifully balancing between a modern openness and airiness and a genteel traditionality. The shop is not large, with the floors split into small rooms that never seem overly small, maintaining a sense of space, with the books never intruding into the atmosphere.
The books are presented well, well mixed between stock maintenance and placement. Neat uncrowded tables display chosen titles, and several bookcases are dedicated (and this was particularly wonderful for me) to displaying staff favourites and the top ten choices from visiting authors, amongst others. Various book lists are unobtrusively placed, and small informative noticeboards are easily accessible.
Two things struck me as I wandered around the shop.
I spend a lot of time in bookshops, and having worked for several years as a bookseller and bookshop manager (two different things) I am well aware of the importance of the quality and choice of the stock available. There are very few bookshops that I can absolutely say manage to pull off a near-perfect selection of books. City Lights in San Francisco, as is Green Apple Books; Bookworks in Chicago, as is Pilgrim's Book House and another unnamed bookstall in Kathmandu. Mr B's joins them in this. I wandered around and it seemed nearly every other book was one I wanted to pick up and read, the majority of those not seen in bigger chain bookshops. I ended up with a small pile of books in no time, and it was during my deliberations that the second thing struck me.
Ed, the bookseller I had seen so enthusiastically chatting with a customer downstairs, popped upstairs to make sure I was okay. Within seconds he had recommended 'A Fraction of the Whole' by Steve Toltz with such passion that it joined the pile. After further whittling the pile back to within the limits of my 'budget' I popped downstairs and had another brief chat, 'The Missing' by Tim Gautreaux joining the pile on his recommendation. We chatted further about bookselling, about books and twitter and all sorts of things.
Mr B's is a wonderful place to visit, and I well understood what Ed meant when he told me that customers would bring friends and family, introducing the shop as 'their bookshop'. It has that feel, it has that gentle verve about it, not least from the more than knowledgeable zest and friendliness of the staff. It is clear that there is a community more than willing to tap into and participate in the atmosphere of the bookshop.
I know I could get the books I bought for cheaper, but price isn't the point. Amazon and the other chain bookshops lack the individuality and expressiveness of shops like this, many of them do not engender that feeling of community and protectiveness that is more often associated with a good local pub. The service is excellent, the ambience great, the selection just about right and the shop's gestalt both individual and accessible.
Mr B's is a place, as a book-lover and former bookseller, that is pretty near perfect for me. I could work there, happily. I could run a bookshop like it with absolute glee. I will certainly continue to buy my books there.
Voyageur by Robert Twigger (author of Angry White Pyjamas)
Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov
A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz
Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Huraki Murakami
The Missing by Tim Gautreaux