A Good Bookshop Guide?

There are book reviews coming I promise, in fact there is a backlog of about ten which I really want to get on the blog, however you probably know me well enough by now that if there is a project in my head my full focus goes on that until I have cracked it. Yes, that’s right, I have another project that I want to start and this one involves a guide to bookshops.

You may have noticed in the last few weeks that I have been checking out bookshops in Liverpool and the area surrounding in Merseyside and the Wirral. When I find a new area I like to look at where I can get my hands on books, we all do don’t we? Since I visited one that had sadly closed down on Sunday and then saw three yesterday, including one where the Savidge family love of books might have started, I have been thinking wouldn’t it be a good idea if there was a really good guide to book shops. Not just the new ones but also the old ones too.


You see like most book lovers I do like to spend my time perusing lovely new bookshops as well as spending hours trying to find gems in all sorts of second hand shops (as the pictures above show, and thanks to The Beard for showing the excitement a random second hand bookshop finding can bring) as well as charity and clearance bookshops of course. So why is there not a guide for bookshops available in book form?

The answer is that there might be… somewhere. Though I would have thought in the years that I have been blogging that if such a book existed then someone might have just put me in the direction of it, or said book/guide could have crossed my path. Nothing has as yet, though now some of you might send me the link to one. I have found websites here and there, but all seem to simply give the details, and maybe a picture, but no sense of what the shop itself might be about, its atmosphere etc. So I thought, as I do the ‘Bookshops I Love’ posts maybe I should do one, or try to, and went off to a nearby bookshop in search of some material that could inspire me. I came back with these…

One book I have been familiar with for a few years, possibly since childhood though not for all the wrong reasons, is ‘The Good Pub Guide’. This is like a bible for pub lovers, like my family are (every time we were in a new area or town this book would come out at some point be it a day trip or a ten mile walk in the countryside), as it lists all the pubs in all the counties in the UK. It gives you some details about the country and then all the pubs; where they are, the food they do, the atmosphere, the prices etc. What could be a better format for a bookshop guide?

The reason that I also pulled Bill Bryson’s ‘Notes from a Small Island’ off the shelves in the shop was that this is the book in which he wittily captures British life (I haven’t read it but this is what I have heard) and what my idea was, if I could pull it off, would be to describe the area the book shop is in and the other people who peruse it. This could be done by sitting in cafes for a while, or merely ear wigging my way around the shelves. What could be a better way for me to spend my time?

I would of course also mention the staff, for example the horrid woman in one of the Southport bookshop’s who yesterday only stopped scoffing her second cream cake in a row, in the slightly hidden office where she was lurking, to shout ‘IF YOU WANT TO TAKE PICTURES THEN ASK’ across the store. She then sneered a ‘hello’ at every customer who came in after so at least I knew it wasn’t me, but it did stop me from picking up any books for purchasing sadly, there were some gems but I didn’t buy to spite her – just being honest.

I am hoping that something which is a mix of the two might not only make a good proper guide, but also be something that’s quite fun and also embraces the love of bookshops of all kinds… So that is what I am planning to do, the research is obviously going to be very difficult for me, ha. So what do you think?

I will write more once the website is up and I have had a crack at writing a few!


Filed under Random Savidgeness, The Good Bookshop Guide

36 responses to “A Good Bookshop Guide?

  1. I love the idea, although you may find bookshops are changing hands (or going out of business) quite quickly nowadays, so it may be difficult to keep this up-to-date. There is a website that claims to be the only guide to the UK’s second-hand and antiquarian bookshops.

    • I have checked the inprint website, though thanks for the link on behlaf of everyone else, and its a great list of places but absolutely no descriptions of them in detail and what the atmosphere etc are like which is what I would like to know.

  2. Great idea! There is a book which does this, the name escapes me, but I don’t know if it’s been reprinted for many years.

    I have found that secondhand bookshop owners tend to be quite rude – odd, given their wonderful surroundings. I was in a bookshop in Lyme Regis today, and after waiting ten minutes or so at the till, with no staff member anywhere to be seen, I had to leave my money and go. And since I didn’t have enough change for all my books, I had to leave one of the books behind too – so they lost a sale!

    • A Penguin a Week and I were in that bookshop you mention Simon T and I thought he was a gruff old seller. He seemed to want to be doing his own thing at the time and I was trying to buy books. He got flustered b/c they were from two different consignment sellers. I still thought he was a bit crabby but Penguin A Week gave him the benefit of the doubt and was more forgiving. I often think second hand book shop sellers are gruff and rude or they are just completely over the top nice and in your face. Where are the middle of the roaders??!

    • Why they are rude I don’t know, I was told (by the Book Boy) that when he went to Scotland and the bookshop capital everyone was rude. I just can’t see the reason, you want people to buy books… so be nice to them lol.

  3. Laura Caldwell

    I will read it even though I’m in America!

  4. didn’t guardian do a guide last year not a book but a pull out oin book shops round uk ,but right they need highlighting as so many have closed inrecent years ,all the best stu

  5. Interesting idea… I am wondering about the challenge of keeping it up to date though (but perhaps that’s a hurdle to cross another day). Maybe an electronic format would work as low-cost, easy to maintain, and easily accessible. Or an app of some kind for i-phone etc using geographical location? (Just throwing ideas around.) And you could categorize it by genre, location, zip code/area code (for US) / whatever would work best in England, etc… There could also be a scale for degree of rudeness of the staff as that seems to be an international problem for some places. 🙂

    Good idea though. Will look forward to seeing how this progresses.

  6. Book Lovers’ London is a good text-heavy reference guide for, unsurprisingly, London bookshops. And, as mentioned above, last year the Guardian did a halfway-decent little booklet on UK bookshops, which I also use (I’ll send it to you if I can find it and you promise to send it back!). But definitely a gap there for a really good guide so I say go for it. By the way, I seem to be about one month ahead of you with all your Merseyside and Wirral visits – I’ve started visiting the place a lot recently and have recently ticked off Reid’s, the Dockside, Thursaston, West Kirby and the Southport bookshops. A good pub guide is essential for exploring a new town – the new Great British Pubs by Tierney-Jones is a good accessible one with nice pictures and nice writing and might prove a nice model for a book version. Cheers, Jim

    • I was just going to mention this book, as I purchased it the last time I visited London. Unfortunately most of the shops my hubby and I went in search of were out of business 😦

    • Jim that is a really kind offer, what was it called and I will see if I can squander a copy somehow. That pub guide sounds great too, I shall look that up.

      How come you are in the Wirral so much, drop me an email and maybe we can use that pub guide to find somewhere for a pint and a meal.

      • Independent Bookshops Directory. Actually, just searched and you can view much of its text online at this link. And bottom left of the page has instructions to get a copy of the actual thing.
        My girlfriend recently moved up there with her new job – so Cardiff – Port Sunlight – Cardiff is my regular weekend trip – like you, gets lots of reading done on the train!
        Sounds great – I’m actually not up there for a few weekends now but I’ll email you next time I am and it’d be great to meet up at some point to chat books, book-blogging and bookshops, while having a drink or two. Look forward to it. Cheers, Jim

      • Definitely do!

        I’m oddly coming to Cardiff next week! Which book shops should I look out for there? I might have some spare time one of the days, or make some spare time!

        Thanks for that link – that’s ace!

      • Cardiff bookshops: Troutmark is a very well stocked second-hand bookshop, with lots of good fiction and plenty of curiosities too. Right in the city centre. It’s where I get most of my books. Love it there.
        Capital bookshop (Morgan arcade) is also well worth a visit, for your even older, even dustier, even more obscure purchases. Also handy as right in the city centre. Very close to the vaguely-famous Spillers independent record shop too., which you should check out.
        Sadly, nothing independent in city centre selling decent selection of new books.
        Great, sounds like we’ll be able to meet up in Cardiff or Liverpool at some point soon – I’ll email you separately so as not to bore people with the details and to ensure no Savidge-groupies gatecrash anything we manage to arrange…! Jim

  7. kimbofo

    It’s a great idea, and one I mulled over a year ago, but as various commentators have pointed out above, bookshops are changing hands/closing down so quickly it would be out of date by the time it was printed. For obvious reasons a website would alleviate that problem.

    I have the Book Lovers’ London book that Jim mentions above, but I’ve not really used it that much. I tend to only be interested in bookshops that sell literary fiction and much of what it includes is highly specialised shops.

    • I had no idea there was a Book Lovers London book and I lived there, as you well know ha, for a decade and a bit. I would possibly not have used it though. I think the website idea might be a goer, I am mulling it all over.

  8. I think it’s a brilliant idea. I love the plan you have for its structure, and including information about the area where the bookshops are situated would be very useful in general. The only problem with it is what others have said, the disappearing nature of bookshops, and the problem that poses to a book on them. Looking for somewhere that’s mentioned in a book and finding it gone can be upsetting if you’ve spent time trying to get there. Kim’s website idea is a good one, and you could use it to ask people to send in information too.

    Can’t help but think that such a focus on bookshops might help revive interest in them a bit.

    • I love your line of positive thinking Charlie. I think at the moment people are beginning to get angry at the chains and want to support (however they can) local businesses. Maybe I should email Mary Portas and get her in on it!

  9. Brilliant idea, perfect for those who move to a new town and want to know where to locate some books in a strange new environment. You could recruit people in different places to help you out.

    Also, love the use of the word scoff, such a lovely sounding word.

    • Scoff is a great word isn’t it, though not so nice to watch the actual description, especially with the awful woman in that shop.

      I think recruit might initially be a bit expensive, but I could ask for volunteers, it would just be trusting them to get all the details and pictures just right. I am quite a control freak, ask Gav who I do the Readers with.

  10. Richard

    Have you been to Astley Book Farm in North Warwickshire ? … If not you might have missed something! It’s local to me; I pass every week and drop in to see what’s going … and most times I leave with at least one book … and sometimes several! Check out their Website.

    • Thanks Richard, I hadn’t heard of the bookshop at all, well Book Fram, I shall have to look it up. I have recently learnt there is an ex-scrap yard/warehouse on the outskirts of Manchester which is apparently amazing and has heaps of books for a pound, I will have to investigate. For research purposes you understand.

  11. Add me to the list of people who love the idea (although I agree that a hard copy book may go out of date quickly). You could always start with a Guide to UK Bookshops web site and then decide later to try to put these into a book format. I love reading your bookshop posts just to enjoy the shops from afar so I’m sure you would get a following. Meanwhile, I need to get my hands on the pub guide for my next trip to England – how have I been missing that gem of a book?

  12. Richard

    Have you looked at ‘TheBookGuide’ on the web? May be this is the sort of thing you are thinking about.

  13. Someone (there used to be a link on Cornflower but it seems to have gone now or else I’m blind) had a weblog which did what you propose. Two problems, one it turned out that some of the recommended shops went out of business within a few months of a posting (and of course the author did not necessarily know of this) and two it just wasn’t very comprehensive (another real challenge). Of course if you really want to put in all the legwork I’d be very pleased to read it, but are you really going to get enough fun out of it for the considerable effort?

  14. Pingback: Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops – Jen Campbell | Savidge Reads

  15. This is a great idea, specially for the North Westerly among us 🙂 Get yourself to Sharston Books!
    I can’t believe you’ve never read A Small Island. Funnily enough I walked past Barnardos on Deansgate on Fri where they were selling 4 books for £1 and picked up a copy. I don’t know yet how it fares in 2012 but back in the day I actually snorted with laughter in the quiet carriage on the train to Scotland. My fellow passengers really appreciated it`

  16. I have several of the guides to bookshops mentioned above and in addition have an old copy of what was THE best guide to 2nd hand bookshops in the UK – Drif’s Guide to Second-hand & Antiquarian Bookshops of Britain: Drif was marvellously un-PC. He crammed as much info into as small amount of page space as possible, and was famous for his abbreviations:

    BSN Bibliographically subnormal
    ETGOW Easy to get on with
    FARTS Follows you around recommending the stock
    GOB Grand old bore
    KEENON Keen on stocking if they could get it
    KUTI Keeping up the image
    NETGOW Not easy to get on with
    OOPS Out of print books
    OWOWS Oversupplied with one way streets
    POCS Proliferation of charity shops
    POCCIES Ladies who work in charity shops
    WAD Worth a detour
    WAP Worth a pilgrimage
    WYLAH Watches you like a hawk
    If you ever see an old copy of Drif’s Guide – snatch it up, it may no longer be up-to-date but it is hilarious reading for bookshop lovers!

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