The Joy of Books (3)

One of the joys of moving to Crickhowell in 2014 was discovering it had an independent bookshop. Called, aptly, Book-ish, it was housed in lovely but cramped premises. That didn’t stop owner Emma from inaugurating the first Crickhowell Literary Festival in 2015.

I’ve blogged several times before about the festival so I won’t repeat myself here; instead I want to sing the praises of the bookshop now it’s firmly established on the High Street.

But don’t take it from me: Book-ish has won many, many awards.

Damian Barr’s Literary Salon named it the Indie Bookshop of the Month for February 2020. Back in July 2019 it was named National Book Tokens Bookshop of the Month. In the British Book Awards (or Nibbies) for 2017 it was a regional finalist for the Independent Bookshop of the Year, in 2019 it was the regional winner, and in 2020 it has again made it onto the regional shortlist for Wales.

Back in 2018, when the town was named Great British High Street, owner Emma was awarded the title of High Street Hero. And Amy, one of the staff at the shop, has been recognised for organising the Crickhowell Children’s Book Festival with a Young Bookseller Special Achievement Award.

In the main shop there are several sections: fiction by author, crime, classics, poetry, non-fiction, local interest, fantasy and SF, feminist titles, signed books, picture books, graphic novels, literature-related stationary, tables for recently published books — it’s a wonder so much can be packed into one space without feeling crowded.

Below ground level there’s a cosy sort of Room of Requirement for younger readers from pre-teens to young adults, and on the way to the back of the premises there are more sections for travel, gardening, cooking and nature.

And, wonder of wonders, there’s a well-patronised Book-ish Café serving cakes, snacks and drinks, and a well-appointed comfy loft space suitable for meetings and for the essential talks from authors.

Now, there’s a reason why I’m writing a virtual puff for the business (apart from a kind of reflected pride): it’s because at a time of perennial doom and gloom, and particularly after premature predictions that indie bookshops couldn’t survive the online onslaught of Amazon and others, it’s heartwarming to confirm that some positive things are still happening.

And when it comes to books — especially hold-in-the-hand touchy-feelie books — what’s not to like? Especially from a book outlet with friendly, welcoming and knowledgeable staff.

Yes, there is a downside, in that there are never going to be the massively discounted bargains that are offered online, but think of the struggling authors and artists you might be helping to support, and the publishers who can then afford to promote the kind of worthy titles that may not have mass market appeal but which you may want to read.

So that’s why I want to celebrate my local indie bookshop. And of course today is World Book Day in the UK and Ireland …

29 thoughts on “The Joy of Books (3)

    1. You’ve characterised me so well, Nicola! I really enjoy these online discussions about books but there’s nothing nicer than being able to enthuse (and occasionally disagree) about a title face to face! And, of course, there’s the sensual aspect of browsing books which online browsing just can’t match.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I wish we had a bookshop here, independent or otherwise. Our options are limited to the bestsellers list in WH Smith or the books the supermarket randomly seems to stock – mostly celebrity cookbooks and memoirs. It’s so hard for them to survive these days but clearly yours has got found the secret! Cake always helps! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suppose the allure of a High Street with independent businesses, as opposed to the identikit chain stores that are killing off so many main shopping streets when a firm goes bust, is what draws both locals and visitors here. Crickhowell has fought long and hard to keep out predatory outside commerce, and the ability of an indie bookshop to flourish is definitely a positive outcome of that.

      When we visited Rye we were delighted to find and purchase books from what appeared to be an indie, marvellously well-stocked and colourfully displayed with wares. It was only after that the shine was slightly taken off when we discovered that it was an offshoot of Waterstone’s, part of their policy of allowing selected bookshops a degree of independence to choose stock and organise display. Though it felt a bit of cheek as well as a cheat to masquerade as a real indie, I felt they got the vibe absolutely right.

      I wonder if they’d do something similar in your neck of the woods? We really liked the Edinburgh Waterstone’s, almost opposite the Castle.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I suspect we’re not a big enough town for locals to sustain a bookshop, and we’re not the kind of place that attracts visitors and day trippers. I used to fantasise about opening a bookshop here myself, but always talked myself out of it in the end. Too cowardly!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’ve never fantasised about opening a bookshop, but as a student I did work for a brief period in a secondhand bookshop, which seemed as close to heaven as I could get if it wasn’t for the fact that books kept getting nicked from the carousels in the entrance.

          These days I come across the occasional community bookshop (I last saw one in Cardigan) where money paid for donated books gets ploughed back into local projects, and I might fancy being involved in something like that.

          If Hay-on-Wye were a few miles closer I’d be paying regular visits there, I’m sure, but it isn’t (which is less of a strain on both cash flow and my bookshelves) — alternatively a job in one of the outlets might suit me down to the ground…

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Jayne

    I visited Crickhowell for the first time last year and loved not only the bookshop but the whole place. Friendly with everything you could need on one high Street. Will be visiting again in May via Hay Festival. We have been lucky to have a wonderful new bookshop in St Albans and our town is all the better for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We’ve only visited St Albans once, Jayne, years ago, and there wasn’t time to go in search of bookshops (the Cathedral was the big draw, obviously!) but it’s good news you’ve got a new, hopefully indie bookshop there. Crickhowell’s friendliness was one of the prime reasons for us moving here, and as we’re on the High Street the bookshop is, quite literally, just up the road from our front door! How lucky are we? 🙂 Hope you have a lovely time in Hay, I must check out the guide and book.


  3. You have reminded me that I’ve yet to visit our local bookshop which recently re-opened. (Though probably much further back than I care to admit to.) I was in Looe today and as usual I thought about it but got no further. How appropriate it would have been to visit on World Book Day. I will get there very soon!


    1. A reopened bookshop? A cause for cheering! This early March date for World Book Day is directed at children (priced at £1 and €1 or with vouchers) but the more international event, inspired by a Catalan tradition, is to celebrate St George’s day: the April 23rd date is associated with Cervantes, Shakespeare and a few other authors and was when lovers in Catalonia exchanged books and roses. And still do!


  4. Pingback: The Joy of Books (3) — Calmgrove – Earth Balm Creative

  5. From reading your posts I worried about the bookshop when I saw the flooding in the newspaper, everything is ok I presume? I’m lucky enough to have a local indie bookshop as well, fantastic isn’t it?!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the part that was the core of the medieval town, including the High Street, is several tens of metres above the flooding, and the more recent houses are mostly higher; it was the area around the bridge that got the worst of it. Yes, the bookshop and several other businesses responded magnificently to help those most affected. A local indie bookshop can indeed be fantastic, and sometimes in more ways than one!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. buriedinprint

    One of the English book podcasts I listen to (maybe The Guardian or the BBC’s Open Book) was recently sharing some not-so-good publishing news but the bright bit of news that went alongside is was the renewed health of independent bookstores (I can’t recall if they were speaking of English statistics or United Kingdom statistics – most of the specific stores seemed to be in the London area), how the numbers were just slightly increasing. Joy!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have seen a couple of Guardian items in recent months about the health of independent booksellers, and I’m sure it applies around the UK and not just the southeast of England! I believe the sale of ereaders has plateaued and there’s been a promising increase in print books, but statistics always need to be interrogated, don’t they? 🙂 Joy is definitely not off the table yet!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. As a ‘bookish’ person I am now keen to visit Crickhowell. This bookshop looks a delight. This lovely post is a very cheerful read, thank you. However I too have been caught out by the Waterstones branches dressed up as an independent. I was caught out on holiday in Southwold and dragged my husband in saying ‘oh look I must support an independent bookshop’ only to discover later it was Waterstones in disguise.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Since James Daunt (of Daunt’s Books in Marylebone) took over as CEO a few years ago he’s been steering Waterstone’s in a less corporate direction, giving branch staff more leeway to make decisions about stock, getting them out of uniform into civvies, allowing them to be all that we expect indies to be in terms of loving books, enthusing customers, knowing their stock and so on. The ‘indie’ Waterstone’s are, I agree, a cheat, but I welcome the removal of the corporate image when it allows old high streets to return to a more distinctive look with the bookshops fitting in with independent businesses. I hate, absolutely, those bland town centres which could be anywhere in the country, the only book-like outlet being The Works.

      But do visit Crickhowell! Only Boots, the Post Office and a service station resemble anywhere else, while butchers, bakers, bric-a-brac shops, cafés, grocers, newsagents, clothes shops, hairdressers, hardware stores and a zero waste shop (to name a few) are all locally owned and managed!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Winding Up the Week #111 – Book Jotter

  9. I’ve promised myself a trip to Crickhowell in the summer – it used to be a regular haunt but when we moved further south it became a bit too far to go. I hear from Kath Eastman about all the superb author events at this shop. There’s even a walking book group I understand?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hooray for having a brilliant local bookshop! My high street has a small but well-meant bookshop – sadly, I seem to be one of few SFF readers who frequent it other than the owner, to the extent that they lost their dedicated SFF bookcase in favour of mixing them into General Fiction (but at least they didn’t stop stocking them). And they are fab with recommendations when I’m buying for other people 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I sometimes think it’s good to mix more genre titles in with general fiction, giving us all a chance to read outside our usual range of authors and genres. But at least you still have a bookshop, with dedicated and helpful staff, and that’s to be celebrated!

      Liked by 1 person

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