On Saturday afternoon, at the end of a whistlestop tour around the glories of Georgian Bath, I spied a bookstore. I'd been pretty well disciplined over the holiday period - with no need for new books (I had an unusually good Christmas haul), I had spurned many opportunities to visit stores.
But this was one temptation too many. We crossed the street, and in I went.
The fundamental difference between a good bookstore and a bad one, I think, is the degree to which the bookseller loves books. Somehow it's easy to tell: it can be seen in the presentation; it can be seen in the organization (just how many books can you cram into a sqaure metre of floor space?); it can be seen in the disposition of the staff. And so many of the books were wrapped. I loved that. "These documents are precious", it said. "Look after them."
A love of books was written all over Topping and Co. From the immaculately designed window, to an interior so crammed with books that it was all but impossible not to bump into a table and knock the end pile on to the floor (as I did, followed swiftly by a staff member who was too deep engrossed in a phone call trying to organize the visit of a SciFi writer).
Reacting favourably to a bookstore is dependent to some extent on finding books within it that you like - as I did. But I am also fairly certain I was predisposed to spend money the second I walked into the place. In the end I bought four - two from authors I'd never heard of, a great treat - and it could have been four times that. Partly I think that is because Topping's had so many book faces on display, rather than the usual anonymous row-upon-row of spines. It simply meant that more titles caught my attention. (Many of these were piled precariously on tables).
It was partly, I suspect, because the ambience of the place lent itself rather well to browsing. The overall atmosphere was welcoming; the staff helpful but discreet; the lighting rather good; and then over the speakers they were playing Ludovico Einauldi, including the marvellous I Giorno. There was really no incentive to leave.
If that all sounds a bit dewey-eyed and romantic, well, that's pretty much how it made me feel. I should cherish books more! I should read more! Write more! And, yes, blog again.
The timing was perfect. Earlier in the weekend, I read that more than one million of us received e-readers for Christmas this year. Close friends in the village - bookworms both - have been glued to their Kindles since 25/12. But books are beautiful things, rather more than just 0s and 1s in a software file.
It's good to be reminded of that once in a while. Thanks Topping's!!