Sunday, 30 March 2008

Books, books, books

One of the highlights of the second day of the North East tour was a visit to Alnwick and Barter Books, one of the largest second hand bookshops in the country. Like another of the best bookshops, the Hay Cinema Bookshop, Barter Books is housed in a building converted from a very different previous use. It was once a railway station. Now the trains that run are model engines, traversing lines inside the shop and above head height.

Showing what I claim was incredible restraint (maybe threats of dire consequences from my family if I added to the mass of books in our house had a bit to do with it as well) I didn’t actually buy a book there. I did, however, see a sign offering for sale a Golden Age mystery I’ve long sought after. It is Careless Corpse, by the maddening but enjoyable C. Daly King. Alas, its price was prohibitive. I’ll have to keep searching.

After that, it was on to a very different, and much more contemporary, collection of books – the one held by South Shields library, venue for another Victorian mystery. Pauline Martin, who was in charge of the event, proved a very friendly companion – even though she’d worked a twelve hour day and must have been exhausted by the end of it - and I was surprised and delighted when she presented me with a framed watercolour.

Pauline’s efficiency was yet another reminder, not that I needed one, of how good the best librarians can be. I’ve met a great many generous and charming library staff in my travels over the last few years. The libraries are a wonderful public service and I wish that the government would invest more heavily in them, since I’m convinced that they play a vital part in fostering the identity of communities, in prosperous and deprived areas alike, as well as helping to foster the love of books. People with disabilities, for instance, often benefit hugely from having a good local library and I was glad to have the chance to chat to quite a number of those who were present at the South Shields event.


Juliet said...

I've carefully avoided visiting Barter Books on my trips to the North East because I KNOW it would have FATAL consequences (and no mystery involved: I'd either stay there for weeks on end and starve to death or simply expire, exhausted, under an unfeasibly heavy pile of must-haves en route to the till). Your restraint (self-imposed or otherwise) is admirable under the circumstances.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Juliet. The only way to do it is to go there together with companions who mutter darkly and consult their watches meaningfully at very regular intervals! To visit in the company of a fellow biblomaniac would indeed be fatal...