For the love of books: a travel guide

This all started with Twitter and an article in The Guardian from 2015: Marta Bausells’s The 10 Best Independent Bookshops In The World – Readers Recommend.

Finding this list was like answering a call from Destiny – I spent the next few weeks saying “I’m going to go on an around the world bookshop tour based on an article from The Guardian” and having to put up with a lot of strange looks.

But I didn’t care – I knew I’d meet people who were as passionate about literature as I was. They’d understand why I had to do this.

The nearest shop to me on the list was Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, in Bath. As a result of naïve optimism and youthful ignorance, I  had no clear plan of what I was doing, other than a.) Book a train ticket; b.) I should buy one book from each bookshop, and get it signed by the staff. All of a sudden I was in Bath, and I didn’t know the first thing about being a journalist – I didn’t even know how to get to the shop.

“It’s Ok – this is what makes me so different from all the other travel writers out there,” I told myself, in an effort to suggest that my inexperience was ‘endearing’ and ‘quirky’, and not ‘desperate’ and ‘a harbinger of disaster.’

After studying a map for myself, I decided that the best (read as ‘laziest’) way was just to approach people and ask directions.

Mr B.’s has won an Independent Bookshop Award, twice, in 2008 and 2011.

Their logo is a reading monkey. I was unaware of this, and I had to ask – upon seeing a bookshelf entitled ‘The Reading Monkey’s Favorite Reads’ – “What exactly is a Reading Monkey?”

To answer my question, the staff produced the monkey of the moment; he’s a sock monkey, handmade especially for Mr B’s. “We no longer keep him on the shop floor,” they explained, “Customers kept trying to buy him. The woman who made him cannot mass produce reading monkeys, so we have to keep him out of sight.”

However, the reading monkey does have a few special relatives; the Golden Sock Monkeys. They’re part of an award system specific to Mr B’s; every writer who wins a Golden Sock monkey gets one, and each one’s personalized to the winner, as he’s reading a miniature copy of their book.

When William Boyd won one he was cynical at first  – then he sent Mr B’s a picture of his reading monkey, sitting on his mantel piece, so it would seem that he came around to the idea (and why wouldn’t he? It’s the best thing to win, ever!)

This anecdote perfectly demonstrates how it’s not just readers and booksellers who fall in love with Mr B’s, it’s writers, too.

As I leave Mr B’s, I just have time to sign the guestbook: ‘Thank you for putting up with my bookshop ramblings!  – Chloe, the journalist’.


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