I’ve just returned to Amsterdam from a holiday in an ancient vicarage in the depths of Norfolk with a wallet that’s pounds lighter and a suitcase that was pounds heavier. Most of the extra weight was books (plus proper teabags, chocolate and Norfolk lavender). I was delighted to see so many independent bookshops apparently thriving out there in small English towns, with fantastic and varied selections of titles.
Here, in no particular order, are some of my favourites:
1) The Book Hive in Norwich.
This amazing shop has three floors of books filling shelves and tucked away in nooks and crannies, including a very healthy number of books in translation, as might be expected from a bookshop in the hometown of the British Centre for Literary Translation. I came away with a tidy pile of books, including this one: The Drunken Botanist, which combines a couple of my favourite things.
2) Then there was the Holt Bookshop in the beautiful little town of Holt, which kept me happily browsing for some time. They carry all sorts of books, and I was particularly impressed by the range of children’s picture books and, of course, the Peirene display:
3) We also visited Aldeburgh in Suffolk for the day, partly because we’d heard that the Aldeburgh Bookshop was worth a visit. We weren’t disappointed… More books were added to the pile.
4) On our way back to the Cotswolds before flying home, we stopped off in Ely and couldn’t resist the lure of yet another wonderful bookshop: Topping and Company, which apparently has another branch in Bath. Again, it was an absolute joy to wander around and full of new discoveries, such as a guide to the English Gypsy language. The list of planned events was also most impressive, with speakers inclusing Rowan Williams, George Monbiot, Margaret Atwood, David Crystal and Neil Gaiman.
5) Still on the journey back to the Cotswolds, we had to stop on the way at Jaffé and Neale in Chipping Norton, which is one of my top favourite bookshops. This has as much to do with their eclectic selection of fabulous books as their great coffee and phenomenally good cakes. Cakes and books – a classic combination done fantastically well in a little town in Oxfordshire.
Hoorah for beautiful, independent bookshops! Long may they thrive.