I feel guilty even beginning to write a tribute to bookshops in this, the same paper in which two years ago I published a love song to my Kindle so passionate that it could have made a cold, grey machine blush and go a bit squirmy.
The love hasn’t faded, either – I still love my Kindle. With it I have read more, and more widely, and more freely than I ever did before, and on this my pro-e-reader argument has always rested. More reading can’t be a bad thing, whether you’re reading off leather-bound paper or a digital screen, or a holographic image projected onto the insides of your eyelids by a computer companion who lives inside your brain (it’ll come right after hoverboots, I’m convinced).
“Besides, nobody is saying e-readers are better than books!” my speech goes. “That would be like refusing to use MP3s because vinyl looks so much nicer”. We all know real books are lovely, and we will all still want to fill our shelves with them and let people stand around examining them at parties - but when it comes down to practicality, the 5mm thick device that can cart a thousand stories away in your holiday suitcase is always going to triumph.
But then, today, I started thinking about Jabberwocky. The mock-Tudor shop on the corner of Goring Road, Worthing, centre of all imagination as I knew it from the age of eight to 13. Jabberwocky smelled the way all secondhand bookshops should smell – of musty, yellowing pages and old electric heaters and cups of tea and biscuits and Sunday afternoons.
I can’t lie and say I went to Jabberwocky for the classics. They had a great selection of Enid Blyton’s St Clare’s books, so much funnier and far less sissy than Malory Towers, but the pocket money clasped in my sweaty palm had a different goal. It was to get me a slice of the States. Jabberwocky fed my pre-teen craving for all things American, with its seemingly endless supply of Sweet Valley High and The Babysitter’s Club paperbacks.
They never cared how long you lingered, thumbing your way through all the rude bits in Judy Blume before your mum came back from Co-op with the carrots. I think I imagined I would shop there as an adult too, and take my own daughter to get her fix of hand-me-down happiness – but Jabberwocky closed, years ago. I think these days it’s a plant shop.
So it’s all very well championing e-readers as an adult, but my eight year old self would never have had one, even if they’d been invented back then. For kids with a few precious pounds or nothing at all, bookshops and libraries are still the gateway to a hobby that will last them a lifetime.
Cosy, welcoming and accessible, those bookshops of my youth paid it forward in spades – which is more than we can say for Amazon, I guess.