Bookshops – Jorge Carrión

Why do bookshops matter? How do they filter our ideas and literature? In this inventive and highly entertaining extended essay, Jorge Carrion takes his reader on a journey around the world, via its bookshops. His travels take him to Shakespeare & Co in Paris, Wells in Winchester, Green Apple Books in San Francisco, Librairie des Colonnes in Tangier, the Strand Book Store in New York and provoke encounters with thinkers, poets, dreamers, revolutionaries and readers.

Bookshops is the travelogue of a lucid and curious observer, filled with anecdotes and stories from the universe of writing, publishing and selling books. A bookshop in Carrion’s eyes never just a place for material transaction; it is a meeting place for people and their ideas, a setting for world changing encounters, a space that can transform lives.

Written in the midst of a worldwide recession, Bookshops examines the role of these spaces in today’s evershifting climate of globalisation, vanishing high streets, e-readers and Amazon. But far from taking a pessimistic view of the future of the physical bookshop, Carrion makes a compelling case for hope, underlining the importance of these places and the magic that can happen there. A vital manifesto for the future of the traditional bookshop, and a delight for all who love them.

This was picked up on a whim when it first came out. Suckered into it, I’ll admit, by rave reviews from the media. which were hurriedly found on the trusty phone whilst protectively holding the last copy close.  This sounds like it should be a good book to fuel the passion of a reader for (more) books and the shops they find themselves in. Sadly I found myself underwhelmed after a couple of chapters.

It is an interesting read in parts, celebrating bookshops is a great idea of course but the disconnect for this reader came partly from the lack of small bookshops, they are forgotten with all the razzmatazz of their bigger cousins.  Showcasing well known or popular bookshops is good but the lesser known and equally (arguably more interesting) smaller shops would create, not only a nice contrast but are also something that more people can relate to, especially as they have their own charm and mysticism.

As this is a translation, it’s understandable that some of the phrases seem a bit out of place, however quite a lot of it feels like notes taken and left in the final draft.  There are many occasions when authors, shops and subjects are touched upon in the same paragraph with bewildering speed and change of subject.  It’s fairly sprawling in its name dropping both of obscure and common authors, publishers and so on but it feels like a very mixed bag overall.

There are some interesting bits, talking about freedom of speech, the political aspect of books; how they disseminate knowledge, information, freedom of speech and defiance.  These places are a wonderful resource for finding like minded people as well as like minded readers.  How bookshops have to innovate with stock and how they display it to keep people buying is another interesting topic which is touched upon too.

The lack of photo quality does not really show the the featured shops in their best light, which is another disappointment.  I got the impression that this would have been better as a travel book with a solid structure, rather than flitting all over the globe in such a quirky manner.  Then again as the author says, quite a few of these shops don’t exist any more which is a shame but goes some way to explaining the haphazardness of the structure.  Perhaps there is an idea for someone with a bit of money to go travel the literary world before even more of the finest purveyors of knowledge and literature succumb to Amazon and the like, and write a good travel book.

Interestingly the author states he gets most books on his Kindle these days and only buys those that he can’t get easily, from the local places he visits, this may be one of the reasons why said bookshops have been closing recently, just a thought.  I really wished I hadn’t paid the money for this but borrowed it instead, or indeed picked it up second-hand from an obscurer shop than are featured here.

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17 Replies to “Bookshops – Jorge Carrión”

  1. I can tell you that boring “books about [the manufacturing and sale of] books” is a true category already, and I wish I could have saved you the trouble of this one–I’ve run across more than one book about books and their domain that wasn’t worth the money spent on it. But this stems partly from the dryness of the study of bibliography, which may have a high spot or two, but is basically a bit encyclopedic and dull. Sorry you had to find out the hard way.

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    1. It wasn’t that this is a bad book, it had interesting moments and did make me think of bookshops in a new light but overall it didn’t impress. I will avoid ant books of the type you mention in the future. I wonder why books about books seem to be less stellar than we assume they will be?

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    1. Interesting article and good photos, I’ve heard of most of those but have never been to any, yet. I find honesty shops tend to encourage people to me generous when they leave their cash, which is probably why they stay around longer than other shops.

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  2. Great review and thank you for making me laugh! I agree the best bookstores are the small quirky ones with corners to get lost in. A great novel that celebrates small bookstores like that is The Storied Life of AJ Fikry. It really shows a bookstore as part of a community and how much bookstores can improve communities.

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    1. I’ve never heard of The Storied Life, I will go and check it out. Bookshops really are more than just a place to buy books, I love that, ot brings people together. Always a pleasure to send a laugh your way too!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I find small bookshops more comfortable and customer-friendly. I even find shops selling old, used books, great. It’s a pity that the author missed those cozy, little shops.
    I might sound old school, but I still love holding physical books. I buy the kindle version rarely.

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    1. I am the same, although at the moment I have a few on the laptop because I am saving money but I did managed to bring 21 books over with me so I do have the joy of reading a few of my favourites and sniffing them. I prefer the small shops too, they have more character and are more cosy.

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  4. This is exactly the kind of book I’d snap up with high hopes, so I’m glad I read your review first. To me, a good bookshop feels like a home from home, but that cosy feeling is lost in larger or chain bookstores and it sounds like this book focuses on the bland, rather than the sometimes quirky, often bijou independents that cause pulses to race when you find them.

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    1. There are some good, important shops here, sadly they sort of mingle together and I couldn’t tell you what was open and what had shut off hand. We are of one mind, keep your quirks at home and give us good, obscure books with the odd humorous title thrown in, that’s what captures a reader. I was surprised it was a disappointment but so many books about books and bookshops are. It makes those good ones feel like real gems though so it’s swings and roundabouts I suppose.

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  5. Yes I must agree with you. Although I am only about a quarter of the way through this book I am finding it a bit of a struggle. It’s not as engaging as I hoped it would be. The reviews were very positive about it, but…..it just doesn’t flow well….I don’t know, maybe it lost something in it’s translation into english? He does tend to jump around from place to place, name dropping as he goes. Like you I prefer the smaller quirky book shops as opposed to the big well known ones. Thanks for your review….wish I had seen it before I bought the book. I will struggle on and finish it though.

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    1. I think the translation has a lot to do with it, which is a shame but understandable. Reviews are problematic(much like with films), I usually ignore them and go with bloggers opinions these days. The book is perhaps best read in chapters with other books in between, to make it less annoying to you.

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