Sunday, 22 November 2015

Now sing recover’d paradise…


“Where’s your church?”
     “We’re standing in it.”
     “But this is a bookstore and it’s a Friday.”
     “Yes, but you might also choose to see it as a cathedral of the human spirit – a storehouse consecrated to the full spectrum of human experience. Just about every idea we’ve ever had is in here somewhere. A place containing great thinking is a sacred space.”
– John A Buehrens & Forrest Church: A Chosen Faith: An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism

Last Friday was a delightful day of discovery (and therefore one perfectto be happy in”) – possibly prompted by the fact that it was my (blog’s) second anniversary – although I had initially lacked a way of marking it. However, happenstance (as is its wont) provided divine inspiration (‘theopneusty’), by way of a necessary visit to our nearest railway station; and a consequential impulsive diversion to Books & Ink: “Banbury’s Independent Booksellers” – which has just celebrated its tenth birthday. Huzzah!


Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?
Henry Ward Beecher: Subtleties of Book Buyers

The fact I only left with five small(ish) volumes is something of a miracle – but, as a lifelong bibliophile (especially one with a reading mound that is beginning to resemble Haystacks – both in outline and immensity), I know that one must only enter such an Elysium after a lengthy pause; a very deep breath; and an establishment of sensible(ish) limits. (Plus, of course, books are weighty things: and I am not as strong or youthful as I was – once carrying home every single work by Plato I could lay my hands on in the university bookshop – albeit in paperback. (I was studying engineering.))


Jake went in, aware that he had, for the first time in three weeks, opened a door without hoping madly to find another world on the other side. A bell jingled overhead. The mild, spicy smell of old books hit him, and the smell was somehow like coming home.

Samantha Barnes – who “runs the shop single-handedly apart from her mum” – is utterly representative of the business she has built (or possibly the other way around: this is definitely an archetypal “room of one’s own”): an enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable lover of all things literary. Talk of books – what else… – and her face lights up with what I can only describe as encyclopaedic joy!


Usually when I enter a bookstore, I feel immediately calm. Bookstores are, for me, what churches are for other people. My breath gets slower and deeper as I peruse the shelves. I believe that books contain messages I am meant to receive. I’m not normally superstitious, but I’ve even had books fall from shelves and land at my feet. Books are my missives from the universe.
– Laurie Horowitz: The Family Fortune

Consequently, my first time there went all too quickly: helped, of course, by our similar, overlapping tastes – albeit somewhat omnivorous… – and a shared reverence for the power of print, and its relevance to life (as well as the fact that it is simply wonderful to be surrounded by cocooning walls of wordage). It’s always a treat to wander into any bookshop – but especially one that is as welcoming, beautifully kept and organized, and well-stocked as this: and where a large majority of the books are demanding to be taken home. (I was so engrossed by the contents of the ground floor that I never even made it up the enticing stairs! Next time….)


Fiction will be much the better for standing cheek by jowl with poetry and philosophy.
– Virginia Woolf: A Room of One’s Own

This is therefore a place to linger (especially if you are lucky enough to arrive when it is experiencing what must be a rare quiet moment – although there is also something exquisite about being immersed in the gentle hum of parallel exploration and discovery). And it must be said that the shop itself has a mystique that would not feel out of place on Diagon Alley: such is its magical allure. (No wonder those who visit White Lion Walk – a sort of modern muggle facsimile – rarely do so only once; and that loyal customers may travel quite some distance to visit.) In fact, its location – “up a pretty alley I’ve never noticed before” – in Banbury Old Town, seems so apposite; and makes it a place you have to actively seek: knowing that the rewards for doing so will be immeasurable, unquantifiable by any tangible means (apart from arm-ache, of course…).


Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack. Besides, in this random miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world.
– Virginia Woolf: Street Haunting

With Saturday morning’s flurries of fading snow, and trenchant northerly winds, now seems an apt time – even for me: no fan of its early arrival… – to mention Christmas: if only because Books & Ink – to me – is the ideal setting in which to commence the hunt for presents for those of all appetites and ages; as well as a self-indulgent reward for doing so…. Whatever your predilection, this place is a perfect paradise.


Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.

As two years of putting this together is – again, for me – a momentous achievement (especially as my ‘readership’ seems to be experiencing a growth spurt – thank you…!), I thought it worth attempting to explain what this blog is about. Well, unlike many, it’s not single-topic (as you may just have noticed…). Like a good bookshop (which I obviously do), it’s about what fascinates me and delights me (hence the Connolly quote, above – courtesy of Sam at Books & Ink: who also provided most of the photographs – thank you…!) – although I do try and concentrate on championing all that is wonderful about living here in Shakespeareshire (and sometimes further afield): especially the natural and cultural environments; and how someone who is deafened and disabled wends their way through them (trying to keep a smile on his face, whilst putting one on yours…).

So – hoping that some of your interests coincide with my somewhat eclectic variety; and that’s why we’ve both made it thus far… – thank you for your attention!

So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.
– Virginia Woolf: A Room of One’s Own


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