Who's at the wheel?

<p>Independent publisher The Little Bookroom has just produced Jamie Cahill's <i>The P&acirc;tisseries of Paris</i>. The book is as cosy and evocative as its subject and filled me with wonder. It also addressed the question: how do all these French p&acirc;tisseries survive?</p>
<p>Part of the answer lies in Cahill's encounter at Marandon's, where Monsieur Marandon starts work on his flour-dusted floors at 3 a.m. He has been at it for 20 years and his millefeuille is renowned. (I don't know what it is either.) Asked why he does it he said simply: &quot;C'est mon m&eacute;tier.&quot; How many of us can answer thus? That untranslatable &quot;m&eacute;tier&quot; has, as the <i>Times</i>' reviewer Erica Wagner put it, &quot;a connotation of vocation&quot; and you can tell if this love is present within minutes of entering any shop.</p>
<p>Robert Topping's Ely and Bath bookshops have nice matting and teapots, but so do lots of bookshops. What makes them feel inspiring is that &quot;The Major&quot;, as John Mortimer calls him, is a Marandon figure. He has found his m&eacute;tier. A bookseller at Manchester Waterstone's who used to share the bus home with him told me that his conversation rarely strayed from bookselling and Topping often got off early to deliver a customer order. Whenever I called that shop he was on the till courteous and relaxed.</p>
<p>I recently discovered Leakey's bookshop in Inverness, a Calvinist chapel now flooded with books, even the damnation-haunted pulpit. It has a superb caf&eacute;, a log-cabin stove, and extraordinary stock, including a hardback of Evans-Wentz's<i> The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries</i> (the first I had ever seen: &pound;300 sadly). Old Leakey sat at the centre of the chancel like a wizard in a cardigan. After he had told me that it was only the second copy he had ever seen, I babbled on about the newspaper article I had seen on his shop. The calmness with which he replied: &quot;I never read the papers&quot;, made me wonder why I do.</p>
<p>Andrew Stilwell at the London Review Bookshop is another captain of his ship, who stocked the entire 11-volume <i>Journals of Lord Byron</i> under the biography table &quot;in case anyone asks one day&quot; (they did). Quintessentially, he once double-booked a lager-tasting session with a wood-carving demonstration. His alumni are scattered through bookshops and publishers' boardrooms.</p>
<p>Customers crave a bit of personality and they sniff out places where somebody really gives a damn. Both chain stores and independents can exude this sense that someone is on the bridge, be they Jack Sparrow or Captain Kirk, and no doubt the shops with a healthy future have a Spock around too, to raise an eyebrow when required.</p>