It is not uncommon for writers to be obsessed by bookshops. Some even find their writing feet through loving a particular bookshop and developing a habit, which helps to form the writers they become. And often they end up in a rage with the common run of bookshops. Why would they not? It is, or used to be, a numbers game, and most bookshops fail to stock most writers.
But in recent years online outlets such as Amazon have changed the stocking (and the hating) game. Since proper bookshops became an endangered species, a use-them-or-lose-them energy pervades the bookish classes. It is a form of virtue signalling to go to your local, if you have one, order in what they haven’t got and pay more than you would online.
The 16 writers collected here tell stories about bookshops known and loved throughout the world. They seem to have made a vow of silence concerning Amazon in relation to new books, and they barely acknowledge the internet revolution in sourcing secondhand books. Ali Smith, who in her fiction deftly mixes digital digressions with the domestic minutiae of the writing life, settles for a loving retrospect of Leaky’s shop in Inverness, which opened when she was a story-mad schoolgirl and now has one of the largest collections of secondhand books in Scotland. This happy story generates none of Smith’s usual gleeful acrobatics with Google tracks in the brain. She mentions an online Alert Me form, but moves on quickly — as though to acknowledge the internet middlemen is to risk undermining the very thing it is the business of Browse to praise: the material bookshop stuffed to the rafters with material books which you didn’t know you wanted until you saw them.
Except, sometimes, you do know what you want and then explicit refusenikery about the web turns to whimsy.