The Love of Old Bookshops

a guest post by actress and novelist Elizabeth Housden


My earliest recollection of shopping with my mother when I was very small was to the local bookshop.  I learned to read very early, which is probably connected to my first remembrances and the only thing I spent my pocket money on was books.  I would gaze in awe and envy at the shelves reaching to the ceiling and wishing they were all mine!  I think I still do, except now I really do have floor to ceiling bookshelves at my home.  I imagine a high street without a bookshop there would mean the death of a shopping centre to me.

elizabeth-housdenMy children have the same passion.  After my younger son left school he worked in our local bookshop for six months to pay for his trip to Nepal for his gap year.  He loved it.  The same shop employs a string of young people from his old school year after year, and it is a joy to see these youngsters quickly become experts, absolutely loving the work they do there.  

Anything I want or need, I can find there from travel to novels, children’s books to art history, cookery to the classics.  I cannot pass a bookshop without going in and it is rare for me not to come out with at least one book!  I love the smell, the quiet busy-ness, the interested assistants who genuinely want to help you find what you seek.  They love being introduced to previously unknown works and nod, interested, eager to read it themselves and share that with you.  

I think it was the British artist David Shepherd, who painted so many elephants, saying once when asked what having money did for him and he said being able to go into a bookshop and buy anything there without checking the price!  I rather applaud that but really and truly, just having a bookshop to go into every day in the midst of our everyday lives is more important still.  Long may they remain.

Elizabeth Housden

British actress and novelist