It both shocks and saddens me when I hear that a third of all parents never read to their children, or that the number of bookshops in the UK has halved in just seven years. Set that against the terrifying speed at which libraries are closing, and the rise of ebooks versus print, and suddenly the future of books is looking pretty bleak.
Books educate people. They entertain, inform and distract people, providing a common bond between readers from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Whilst the content of a book may be controversial, the book itself – the sheets of paper, the print, the binding – is not. No-one dislikes books. Even the most reluctant of readers – grown or not – will never be heard hissing ‘I hate books!’ in the way one might if vehemently opposed to football or kippers or spiders. There are those who are ambivalent to books, and there are those who are passionate about them. I fall within the second camp.
As a child we made regular visits to The Book House in Thame, where I would head directly to the children’s corner while my mother gossiped with staff, ordered Christmas presents and picked up still more paperbacks to cram into the bookshelves found in every room at home. Book tokens were welcome gifts; occasionally spent on audiobooks, but mostly – for me – on another Just William to add to my collection.
I carted the cream of my book case to University, where the campus book shop held little in the way of fiction, but where Blacklock’s Books in a neighbouring village provided dusty leather-bound treats with yellowed pages and ornate typeface. One day, when I was browsing the shelves, a man came in to order ten metres of books for the library in his new Surrey home. ‘Doesn’t he care what the titles are?’ I asked, when he had gone, but it seemed the colour of the spines were more important. I wondered if they would ever be read.
When I moved to Paris I had room for just a few favourite books, plus a dozen or so paperbacks which I rotated through the shelves of Shakespeare and Company; a fabulously Bohemian second-hand book shop on the Left Bank, where I lost happy hours skimming through books and finding long-forgotten train tickets and scraps of paper left by their previous owners.
Now that I am settled in the Cotswolds, with children who love books as much as I do, there is no place better to be than Jaffe and Neale, where the selection of cakes is almost as good as the books on the shelves. I love the handwritten recommendations tucked around the covers, and the way conversation strikes up between customers who would otherwise never have met.
And so it was at Jaffe and Neale I supported the launch today of Books Are My Bag: a nationwide campaign to get more people into their local bookshops and buying more books. The fabulous Books Are My Bag tote bag came free with today’s purchases: a Christmas present for my husband, something quirky for my little sister, and a copy of Gangsta Granny for six-year-old Josh. Oh, and more crime for me…
Are books your bag? They are mine.