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Foot Loose and Fancy Free

posted on 27 Dec 2016

Foot Loose and Fancy Free

There can’t be many people who don’t allow themselves the occasional fantasy about what they would do if time and money was no object. For me, despite all the competing possibilities, it’s quite an easy decision to make – I’d love to be free to go discovering and exploring bookshops at home and abroad. I don’t think a job as an international mystery shopper on behalf of the book trade actually exists and so I have to indulge this ambition in the best way I can given that I also have a job and a very strictly limited bank balance.

This year in the week before Christmas I had the chance to spend three days in the magnificent city of York with the sole intention of browsing the book stores and drinking plenty of Yorkshire tea. York has plenty to entertain any tourist despite the fact that the city centre isn’t huge – I think the city’s PR people would probably describe it as ‘compact’ or ‘walker-friendly’ – and all of the bookshops are easy to find and don’t involve any arduous or complex treks.

We decided on York because it’s rapidly becoming an unusual destination for booklovers in that it still has a pretty high concentration of bookshops – old and new – to plan an itinerary around. There are perhaps others still left - Edinburgh offers a similar range of book buying opportunities and Bath also has enough to delight book buyers  -  but many of our bigger cities have driven bookstores out to the periphery or out of business altogether. 

So what would the browsing day look like? Rising at leisure in the morning, a light breakfast and then a slow meander around a pre-planned route, giving all the bookshops the proper time and attention they deserve. Buying is almost a secondary consideration  – simply browsing gives you a sense of well-being and the thrilling prospect that there just might be that special book you’ve been looking for all these years or maybe the one you’ve just read about............. Then more tea before taking in an art gallery or a look around an antiques centre and on to more bookshops. The stuff of dreams.

Summer adventures are best, I think, chiefly because of the weather. Too many second hand bookshops are not at their best in the cold and damp ( all those horrible portable heaters..) and warm weather encourages the desire to take your time and browse. This desire for sunny day book-hunting often makes me wonder whether an extended foreign trip might suit me – especially a sortie around the USA. The online book market, Abebooks, recently featured a planned journey along Route 66 taking in the significant bookshops along the way. What a splendid notion! Starting somewhere near Chicago and meandering across the mid-West and heading for Los Angeles – 66 bookshops on Route 66.

But, of course, this is just a fantasy that I can indulge in those occasional hours when I’m struggling to get to sleep – it’s way better than counting sheep – but I doubt I’d have the stamina for doing this in reality.  And, in any case there’s still a lot of the UK I’ve never been to – Norfolk, Suffolk, Cornwall, Cumbria – and these are book treks I really could do.

Retirement is still a few years away but I’m going to start planning it all well in advance. I know that shops will open and close in that time but I don’t care – there’s nothing like a bit of fortunate serendipity to spice up any journey.

Good book-hunting to you all in 2017.

 

Terry Potter

December 2016