When I lived in York in my pre husband and offspring years, one of my favourite ways to spend a lunchtime was to browse the city centre book shops. I had a choice between a Waterstones, where my favourite genres and non-fiction reads lived in the basement, and another book shop that began with ‘O’ (can’t remember the full name) nearby that was spread over several floors and had comfy armchairs dotted amongst the book-cases. I would enjoy a magical half hour perusing books (that I mentally added to my to-buy list) and breathing in the bookish surroundings.
The time I spent working in London saw many weekends spent in Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road, partly because it was such a wonderful shop to spend time in but also because my father had been a weekend regular there too when he lived in London in the 1950s. Visiting Foyles felt like spending time with Dad.
Nowadays, the O book shop in York and Foyles in London have both been asbsorbed into the Waterstones empire. While each Waterstones store is supposed to be individual in the books it stocks and the character of the physical premises, it’s been good to see the number of independent book shops that have sprung up both on the high street and online, offering a welcome alternative.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy visiting my local Waterstones with its quirky layout, but I want to decide what to buy rather than be pointed to what Waterstones want me to buy. I want a book shop that opens up the world of books to me, whoever those books are published by, instead of simply focusing on the celebrity and traditionally published reads.
That’s why it’s encouraging to see the increasingly wide range of places I can source new books from beyond the big names like Waterstones and W H Smith. So here are my favourite places to find out what new reads are out and buy a few (or more):
Walk-in independent book shops
There are so many brilliant and characterful independent book shops in the UK. While they still have to make a profit, they do seem to be more open to stocking books that aren’t by celebrity authors or from big name publishers. They’re also more than happy to hear from local authors. What’s more, most of them sell books online too. So if you can’t physically visit your local indie book shop, you can still browse what they have to offer and buy a book or two.
Of course, there are the big publishing websites like Penguin Random House but for a different slant on new reads and trends, why not do a search for smaller, independent publishers like Burning Chair Publishing or Valley Press.
I like to keep up-to-date with the latest releases by my favourite authors by visiting their websites. Even those authors who don’t directly sell from their websites, will always share links to where you can buy their books.
Book subscription services
I do love book subscription services. It isn’t a new trend; I can remember my mother signing up to receive classic and crime novels each month for years. Nowadays though, many subscription services will send your new read accompanied with other goodies like bookmarks, tea bags, and biscuits. Some book subscription services are themed around a particular genre and many have links to publishers and authors themselves. My personal favourite is Tea Leaves and Reads.
Yes, I know, Amazon is a monster, but you have to admit that it does have it’s eye on the ball when it comes to knowing what people want to buy, including books. Plus, it’s the saviour of so many self and indie published authors (like me). Maybe I can redeem myself though by saying that I do try to buy books elsewhere, where the publisher or author will get a bigger cut of the sales price, and only use Amazon if the price is reasonable and I can’t find the book anywhere else.
Maybe the standard book ‘shop’ has changed, but there’s never been more places to browse and buy your latest read.