Heffers, Cambridge: “To the bookshop!”

After my four bookshops and at least as many train rides, I was running late. This, of course, was not Louise’s fault. She’d prepared an excellent schedule with suggestions on what trains to take and where. Unfortunately I had to spend some one, one and a half hour, at Kings Cross finding the right train, so when I was finally approaching Cambridge, the question on both of our minds was: would I make it to Heffers in time, before they closed at six o’clock (the opening and closing hours were of course also on The schedule).

As I was leaving the next day for Edinburgh, tonight was my only chance to see the legendary Cambridge bookshop. On a more personal level, I also worried that I would turn out to be that customer, the one that comes in four minutes to closing and isn’t even sure what she wants.

So I did what anyone would have done and grabbed a cab from the train station, shouting as I got into it: “To the bookshop! And hurry!”

It was quite a nice feeling, actually, and it made me wonder why I hadn’t done it before. Surely the need for books have been acute and overwhelming before?

But I made it. With some twenty minutes to spare. I even managed to resist buying the lovely reading set in wood, finally deciding that it was unpractical for travels.

Their recommendation: H is for Hawk.

This was quite impressive of course
But somehow I still prefer this

Beautiful Ely and even more beautiful Topping & Company Ely

Ely is a town full of charm and beauty, and home to one of the most magnificent cathedrals in England. More importantly, it is also home to the even more charming and beautiful Topping & Company Ely. If you visit Ely’s tourist information webpage, the bookshop is not even listed under “Attractions”! I feel like writing them a letter about it.

The shop covers several floors, offers complimentary tea and coffee, and even has a bookshop dog, peacefully asleep under one of the tables.

Before I tell you about their recommendations, let me just say that they were very small and cost almost nothing. “You get five of them for the price of a cup of coffee. And you can have one here anyway, complimentary!”

Which is very true. And besides, they were lovely small little books.

Their recommendation? The Crocked House.

Bonus: Five of Penguin Little Black Classics.

Bookmark, Spalding: “Authors sometimes cry when they have to leave”

Spalding is a market town with a population of 28,722 (2011 census) on the River Welland in the South Holland district of Lincolnshire, England. And it is here you’ll find Bookmark.

I have to confess that I’ve never been able to watch You’ve got mail without secretly preferring Fox Books to Meg Ryan’s A bookshop around the corner. Well, Bookmark in Spalding is like a bigger and better version of Meg Ryan’s shop, and it has a café. Fox Books wouldn’t stand a chance. It is also filled with toys made of wood, giving it all a charming, timeless feel; like bookshop and childrens store should be, or like something out of an old movie about Christmas.

“Well, there’s the train, where they can sit, read and, see, even drive. And a pond, with fishes. So yes, I think it’s quite a good place to be a child. And they sometimes cry when they have to leave.”

I can definitely see why. In fact, I’m not sure I won’t cry when I have to leave.

Their recommendation: The Rosie Effect (already read), A Man Called Ove (actually originally published by my Swedish publisher), and, then, The Invention of Wings, which sounds absolutely lovely.

My only disappointment was that I did not myself get to ride the train. That, however, might change in the future:

They won’t be able to keep me away in June. I only hope I can do it with a little bit of dignity, e.g. not throw smaller children of it in my hurry to get there, not cry when I have to leave, and remember to share with the other children.

Yes, there is fish in the pond.
Oh, that I am too old to ride the train!
Bookmark in Spalding had prepared three bookrecommendations for me, so I was very worried about the one-book-rule. Turned out, though, that they, too, had excellent taste since I had already read this...
... and this
But not this one. One book!

Watermark at Kings Cross: Leaving London (and my books!)

Parting with books is such a sweet sorrow! Before leaving London for the rest of my epic UK bookshops-tour, I had to drop by Louise at the Random House office and leave her some of the books bought so far.

Then I consoled myself by heading to Kings Cross and buying new ones. Watermark on Kings Cross, perhaps the msot happily situated bookshop on the country – right next to platform 9 3/4. As one person on Twitter said: “It’s the best part about Kings Cross.”

It is always a sign of excellent taste when a bookseller recommends a book you’ve already read and loved. Here, it was Watching the English, the book that helped me master Brittish weather conversations.

His next suggestion: Henry Marsch Do no harm – stories of life, death and brain surgery.

Oh, what a sad feeling, leaving (almost) all my books behind! But at least I'll have something to look forward to when I go back to Sweden and find them all waiting for me

Waterstones Piccadilly: where’s the worlds biggest bookshop?

Waterstones Piccadilly!  So … well, so many books. There is difficult to say anything else, except that any store that has four or five floors of books is a store where I’d be happy to live.

It was also here that I was reminded of one of the great things with this UK bookshop-tour: talking to booksellers about their own favourite recommendation.

This is how the conversation usually goes:
Me: “I am only allowed to buy one book, so can you recommend one to me?”
Them: “What do you like?”
Me: “Anything” (quite true)
Them; “What was the last book you read?” (excellent question to find out about taste! Mine right now: Enchanted April)
Me: “Don’t worry about me. Give me something that you‘ve read and loved.”
And either they immediately head ot to two or three or possibly four books, all of them interesting, or they say something like this, slightly apologetic:”Well … it’s fiction you’re after, right? I’m more into non-fiction/childrens book/young adult”
“Anything is fine.”

And then you can just relax and enjoy the passion with which they speak about their favourites, the brilliant books they’ve read. In Waterstones Piccadilly the conversation (non-fiction), e.g., went something like this:

“Oh, where is it… it’s absolutely brilliant. This one is also very good, of course, but … no, wait, here it is. Oh! No, I changed my mind. This one instead. I read it in one evening, and then passed it along to a friend who did the same. Definitely this one.”

Her recommendation: Hanns and Rudolf: The German Jew and the Hunt for the Kommandant of Auschwitz

“It’s based on a true story; concerns an important topic, and reads like an international thriller.”

If you have nothing to do for an evening or a weekend, I highly recommend visiting your locan bookshop, ask the person behind the till for anything he or she has personally loved, and just buy it. Allow yourself to be surpriced. And enchanted.

I think I also shocked Louise a little bit, with the wild abandon with which I books. I walked in there, saw I book, picked it up from the table, and a minute later decided to buy it, happily breaking my one-book-rule yet another time.

“So you had wanted to buy that for some time?” Louise asked.
“What? No, we just got here.”
“But you’ve read about it before?”
“So you just walked up to it and decided to buy it?”
“Eh, yes?”

First of all: it’s title was Arsenic for Tea. Secondly, the cover looked nice. Thirdly, it mentioned Agatha Christie and cosy crime on the cover, in a shameless bid to make readers like me think: “Well, who doesn’t need some arsenic for tea and some quiet, cosy killings? Not like any of those modern murders, no, simple, traditional Brittish ones.”

And it obviously works.