Travel and Books Part 4: No Two Bookshops Are the Same

Sydney, Tuesday

One of the joys of travel for me is to find and explore excellent local bookshops.  In Travel and Books Part 3:  Always Room for Another Book, I wrote about airport bookshops.  Purchases there challenge carry-on space.  When it comes to exploring local bookshops while travelling, we’ve learned we need to leave space in our checked luggage for the inevitable new batch of books we accumulate along the way.

My favourite bookshops are local, independent businesses that sell new and relatively recent books on subjects including local interest, current events, contemporary experiences in travel and memoir, and books that you simply cannot find,  or don’t expect to find, anywhere else.  It’s often the surprise element that’s the real bonus.

After the local independents, I look for chain stores with good local sections, and once in a while, a superb antiquarian or second-hand bookshop.  Sometimes we find a B&B bookshelf with interesting choices, or when we’re really lucky – oh bliss! — an entire street or neighbourhood devoted to books.

In addition to the bookstores mentioned in My Sydney Paris Life — 15 Things I Love about Sydney and Paris (#12 – Books), I ’ve had the pleasure of discovering a number of wonderful local bookshops whilst travelling. 

What Makes Them Great?

  1. What makes a bookshop great for me starts from the minute you walk in, with respect to its size and number of selections.  It’s usually medium-sized, not too small to be cramped and limited in its offerings, not too huge to be impersonal, but just right in being large enough to have a good range of selections.
  2. The selections include some bestsellers, but more importantly, excellent local and regional selections.  What really distinguishes these shops in my mind is their local sections, which usually include walking guides, cultural information, history, memoirs, and fiction/non-fiction by local authors.
  3. Sometimes these bookstores have quirky areas based on the owner’s interests, such as an English bookstore we found in Bourton-on-the-Water, in the Cotswolds, with a large section on the history of Speedway.  (I had never heard of Speedway before I met Clive, and am looking forward to attending my first one with him and his father next month.)
  4. You can tell a lot about the owner(s) by the look and feel of the store:   the selections on offer, the way the store is laid out with care and creativity, and the sprinkling of bestsellers surrounded by other new books with a highly local flavour or reflecting the owner’s particular interests.
  5. The overall atmosphere is fairly quiet, with a distinctively personal feel.  The owner is often visible but not interfering, sitting at the register or working in a corner, available for a query or chat if desired but otherwise staying in the background.
  6. The owner(s) (and staff, if any) are knowledgeable, and often passionate, about books, whether local, regional, national, or frequently international.  They also have valuable knowledge of the area in which they live, which is incredibly useful to the visiting traveller.  And to circle back to point #1, this knowledge and love of books is obvious as soon as you walk in, because of the selections on offer and the way they’re laid out.

Whether a local independent, chain with a good local section, second-hand shop, B&B shelf, or full street dedicated to books, they all offer the potential for some great travel discoveries, and surprises.

More to come.

Travel and Books Part 1:  Will There Be Room for Clothes?
Travel and Books Part 2:  Clive’s Magnificent Trip Book
Travel and Books Part 3:  Always Room for Another Book

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