It should be the stuff of science fiction. Amazon can deliver books within the hour (soon to be parachuting parcels into your garden from drones) and Kindles mean that we can carry entire libraries around in our pockets.
Yet nothing quite matches the magic of a real bookshop. The smell of fresh ink and binding glue, the reverent hush and friendly smiles, dropping into a chair and flipping through a new discovery.
It’s the perfect time of year to curl up with a good book, so here are some of our favourite, independent places to find your next read.
1. Topping and Company, Bath
A beautiful, blue-fronted book shop filled with bespoke, wooden shelves and library shelf ladders, Topping’s is a haven for book worms and host to a regular calendar of launches and author talks, chalked up on boards outside.
2. Richard Booth’s Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye
Cinema, café and bookshop, Booth’s a three-storey emporium of new and second-hand books. Started by the eccentric Richard Booth who turned Hay on Wye into the world’s first town dedicated to books, it is now run by Elizabeth Haycox who added home comforts to the literary cavern. Drop into a slouchy chair beneath a house palm and lose yourself for a while.
3. Barter Books, Alnwick
Husband and wife team Mary and Stuart Manley have combined their respective passions for books and railways in the magnificent Barter Books, a former railway station transformed into an enormous second-hand and antiquarian book store (which you’ll find on page 313 of The Extra Mile). Original features have been restored, fires crackle in former waiting rooms transformed into inviting reading spaces and a model railway runs around the top of the book columns in the central room. As the name suggests, you can still exchange old books for credit against new ones. Magical.
(Image – Ten Penny Dreams)
4. St Ives Bookseller, St Ives
Part of a small series of Cornish bookshops run by Ron and Marion Johns under the umbrella of Mabecron Books, the St Ives Bookseller is a dinky shop filled with thousands of titles to satisfy every holiday reader. Clever, bespoke shelves cram in more books than ought to be possible, with special attention to local writers and creative illustrators, and friendly, well-read staff are on hand with reliable advice if you need them.
5. Booka, Oswestry
“Read, relax, rejuvenate,” says Booka’s manifesto, a bright, modern bookshop in the market town of Oswestry. It’s tied itself closely to its community and hosts all manner of events with schools and authors to share their love of reading far and wide. Grab a title from the well-stocked shelves and delve in over coffee and cake in the café.
6. The Book Hive, Norwich
Stephen Fry once said the Book Hive, beautifully curved outside, filled with interesting titles and designed as a place for reading as much as a shop, was the “kind of place I dreamt of existing when I was growing up in Norwich”. It gently encourages reading, from large scale artworks to inviting events, snug cubby holes and a new and wonderfully named initiative – Page Against the Machine – extends opening hours on a Wednesday and bans devices in a bid to help carve out a peaceful hour for reading.
7. The Big Green Bookshop, London
Famous for trolling Piers Morgan on Twitter with Harry Potter excerpts, the Big Green Bookshop was started in 2008 by book aficionados Tim West and Simon Key to fill a gap left when their local Waterstones (and employer) closed. They make a point of stocking thoughtful and quirky titles and are determined to create a destination more than just a showroom, turning evenings over to stand-up comedy, writer workshops, board-games and supper clubs.
8. Cover to Cover, Swansea
Threatened with closure this year, Cover to Cover in Mumbles was rescued by writer and former antiquarian bookseller Tim Batcup. Overlooking Oystermouth Castle at the gateway to the majestic Gower peninsula, it’s a great place to pull in for holiday reads.
9. Bookwells, Winchester
A beautiful, wood-panelled shop in Winchester piled with novels, fascinating non-fiction and classics. Staff have a deep knowledge of their wares and the children’s section, with blue-painted shelves and regular storytelling and singing sessions for toddlers, is particularly noteworthy.
10. Hatchards, London
The UK’s oldest bookshop, founded in 1797 by John Hatchard, this grand bookshop – painted moss green with curved bay windows – stands fittingly next to Fortnum and Mason on Piccadilly. Signed first editions are a speciality, as are books on royalty and Churchill, and there are leather sofas to sink into for a peaceful read in historic surrounds.
11. Jaffe and Neale, Chipping Norton
A Cotswoldian utopia for book worms, Jaffe and Neale is exactly how book shops should be. Tastefully decorated with a focus on customer service and good books, it’s a wonderful place to drop in for a slice of the famous carrot cake and flip through some titles (watch those sticky fingers). It’s community focused so you may well stumble upon an author event or the monthly book club.
12. Daunt Books, London
Exactly as you imagine a book shop to look, Daunts is a gorgeous Edwardian store in central London with hanging oak balconies encircling the back room, calming green walls and light streaming through stained glass windows. Though categorised as a travel specialist, you’ll find a trove of fiction, reference books and biographies within its walls.