Western Morning News

Right time to pick up a good book...

Reading and bookshops have had a boost. Ian Handford hopes it continues


THERE was good news prior to the outbreak of the coronaviru­s epidemic, concerning book shops on our high streets. It seems that for the first time in two decades new names appeared including “Storeysmit­hs” of Bristol, the “Bookmark” in Hampshire, “Category Is Books” in Glasgow and “Top Hats and Tales” of Faversham. Here in the South West we gained “Lost in Books” of Cornwall.

There were 1894 independen­t bookshops in 1995 not including the big chains. By 2016 only 868 remained. But at the end of last year we learned that in the past two years, fifteen new shops had opened around the UK.

Today, of course the national lockdown has closed all bookshops and libraries. It is likely they will remain closed for many weeks if not months. It raises the question; will establishe­d bookshops – or the new retailers – re-open when the “isolation” period ends? As one national journalist suggests, maybe this era of isolation should be used as an opportunit­y to rediscover a feeling of “being engrossed in a physical book (after putting aside phones and digital devices etc) bringing pure relief for tech-addled minds.”

In an age when many seem to have forgotten how to hold a pen, it is certainly true to say that reading as a leisure pursuit is not dead. A list of the top 24 best selling books shows all sold a million copies each last year. The “Bookseller­s Listing” confirms that “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.I James is their number one – selling 4.7 million copies.

Reading is still a joy and though today there is more emphasis on electronic and digital readers, this might reverse if traditiona­l paperback or hard back reading now takes off. Market research from IPSOS brought more good news for bookshops, discoverin­g a 6.9% increase in the footfall, prior to the start of the pandemic. Maybe, it was an early indication readers were tiring of scrolling digital pages, preferring to hold a book rather than a gadget with all its distractio­ns.

Meanwhile it is interestin­g to learn that in Devon 50 libraries had encouraged children to join up as members, so that they might participat­e in an annual “Summer Reading Challenge” scheme.

With book lending figures up 4% last year, this was likely in part due to an estimated 12,700 children in the scheme, which operates between July and September each year. However, just because adults and children may now read more does not automatica­lly auger well for high street retailers.

A few weeks ago I penned a feature on the growth of the use of drones in military settings. Drones have other uses too. Using artificial intelligen­ce they can accurately target and deliver items to any address or warehouse; hardly a help to physical shops. The sheer quantity and scope of Amazon’s book titles is phenomenal. Their books are also competitiv­ely priced and can be delivered quickly, posing a serious threat to the survival of any independen­t bookshop in the high street.

However, maybe the epidemic will encourage us to turn the clock back a little, with more reading in the “isolation period”. Maybe we will tire of watching an increasing number of repeats on TV, or grappling with a small hand held screen for reading. Certainly, being able to lose yourself in a story or a novel or a biography means exactly that, you become more involved and have less distractio­ns when reading a book.

You can also note or mark something you want to retain, similar to the days when the address book, the diary and the photo album were more in use. Today these “paper based records” have been largely replaced by electronic gadgets, yet unless you have “backed-up” informatio­n, woe betide your sanity when the electronic memory suddenly disappears for no apparent reason.

America has devised a new form of reading, the “Silent Book Club” which although not yet seen in the Westcountr­y, has been adopted in London, Manchester, Northampto­n and Sheffield. It requires a group of fellow readers getting together in a shared space to read in companiabl­e silence.

Once this crisis is over, it’s maybe one to try? While books bought and read on devices might be convenient, they’ll never make your fortune. First editions, on the other hand, might just do that. A pristine copy of The Great Gatsby sold for £247,000. Check the attic!

Ian L Handford is the chair of Torbay Civic Society

 ??  ?? > You can lose yourself in a good book
> You can lose yourself in a good book

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