Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Shelf Doubt: the Intimate History of Bookshops

Boyd Tonkin explores the bookshop as portrayed in literature in this readable and neatly crafted essay:

"Few writers respect the intimate history of bookshops. Their presence, or absence; their plenitude, or poverty, feeds a stream of feeling that runs through the lives of people who read, and who write. They nourish and withold. They gratify and disappoint. They reward curiosity with serendipity. Responses to their opening and closures, their makeovers and takeovers, compile an index of emotions stretching from agony to zealotry.

Yet authors often feel compelled to foul the nests that nurture them. In novel after novel, from George Gissing to Vikram Seth, bookshops and their staff shrink into sketchy cartoon shapes. Alarmingly often, they feature as boringly unwholesome temples of dullness and delusion. Why should this be so?"

Just one of many contributions to New Writing 15 - the British Council's annual anthology of the finest contemporary writing in fiction, non-fiction and poetry, selected by Bernadine Evaristo and Maggie Gee. Published by Granta, but with many contributions now available as downloads, including Boyd Tonkin's essay, and an extract from Alasdair Gray's novel The Posthumous Papers of John Tunnock, and a piece by Julian Barnes: 'The Case of Inspector Campbells's Red Hair'. The downloads, including "Shelf Doubt', are available at: