The Importance of Browsing in Bookshops

The Importance of Browsing in Bookshops

I am a bibliophile and therefore rather biased in this area. The selection and ownership of a book is, for me, a serious business.

I have tried an e-reader and it was a very good one. I found it to be practical and quite nice but for me it lacked the romance and excitement of a real book. Searching for a book on the internet is wonderfully practical in that I can wake in the middle of the night with a suddenly remembered title and find it but this type of searching lacks surprises. You have to know what you are looking for. The book can’t find you. I prefer the finding of a new book to read to be a modest kind of quest. An adventure in it’s own right.

I enjoy reading reviews and I very much enjoy the recommendations of my friends or my book club but most of all I love to browse in bookshops and libraries - to wander through the shelves. I have for all of my adult life happily passed time in this way in bookshops and libraries. I grew up in a small village and I passed our local library everyday. But it took courage to step into a bookshop alone for the first time. Bookshops can be intimidating places for a novice.

In a bookshop you can stumble across a new book by accident. I do not think that you can do anything by accident on the internet. There will always be SEO or an algorithm guiding you. In a bookshop a title, spine or cover design can simply catch your eye and demand closer inspection. When browsing I usually begin with A, other times (when feeling rebellious!) I might start at Z and work my way through the spines backwards. New authors and titles appear every time I do this, no matter how well I know the shelves.

Bookshops are palaces of ideas. Just being in one, surrounded by well-displayed titles and cover designs, gets you in touch with current thinking. The books that fill a bookshop are measures of where our collective ideas are heading. You can become well-informed by simply standing in a good bookshop. In a bookshop I can overhear a nearby conversation about a book I’d never heard of and be inspired to buy it. I have done this more times than I could possibly remember and the reading of these clandestinely discovered books always has an extra thrill.

The traditional (and expert) skills of publishing – book design, typography, illustration, editorial – all work together to allow the idea to sit centre stage. Holding a book and flicking through its pages, feeling its weight (while at the same time admiring a beautiful bit of typography or design) can all be reasons to own that book, take it home and see the world differently for a week or so - perhaps it will even change your life. 

Once bought and read this book will take its place on the bookshelves in my home. I give lots of books away but always try to replace the important ones. Some particular copies I could never part with as they were companions to an important discovery or time in my life. On my shelves is my father’s copy of Alice in Wonderland. It was given to him in 1937 when he was five years old. He must have given it to me when I was about seven or eight. I read it every night for years. I could see his childish thumbprints in the margins alongside mine. I treasure this book and one day soon I will pass it on to my own children. And I don't believe any of this would hold any real significance as an entirely virtual experience.

Hare by Zoe Greaves and Leslie Sadleir is out now (Old Barn Books, £9.99).