In Praise of Independent Book Shops

I have mentioned this place before when I had a visit to St Andrews in May last year – but I cannot come to this town without several visits to Topping & Company Booksellers – to revel in the atmosphere.  And to reflect – with some sadness on the fact that there are so few of these places left –  with the dominance of Waterstones, cheap books and of course global giants such as Amazon.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m as guilty of buying cheap books as the next person – and I do like my kindle so I can travel with my whole bookcase in my pocket – but it doesn’t stop my worrying about what we might be losing…………………………

I want to say it’s like stepping back in time to come here – but actually it’s a comfortable mixture of old and modern.  There is usually music playing – Bach Cello Suites today – and the bookshelves are stacked – floor to ceiling – with little notes to pull out the books and look behind if you can’t find what you want.  The books are loved.  Many are wrapped to keep them pristine – but there is always a copy to browse or flick thorough – and this is welcomed.  So much so that there are little corners – with shabby chairs where you can curl up with a good book.  And if you do – someone will bring you a tray of tea or coffee – so stay – linger – enjoy!

His Bloody ProjectLast year I was inspired to read around my visit to Scotland and so was tempted by some Scottish Poetry as well as by as by a little literary trickery – a novel – a psychological thriller masquerading as a piece of true crime.  His Bloody Project – by Graeme Macrae Burnet is set in a remote Highland crofting community in the 19th Century – and we are left in no doubt from the start about who has committed the murders.  We begin by reading Roderick’s (a 17-year-old crofter) memoir, written while awaiting trial in Inverness in 1869.  The story is constructed around “found” documents relating to a brutal triple murder – Roddy’s memoir, witness statements, medical reports and a journalistic account of the trial – as well as the psychological report on Roddy by the prison doctor.  The book conjures up the brutality of the crofter’s life – at the mercy of poor soil, the weather, the laird and the church.  The account of labouriously gathering seaweed from the shoreline – to fertilise the land – only to be forced to replace it as permission had not been grated by the Laird – remains printed in my memory.  And the brutality of Roddy’s family life – the death of his mother and life with a mourning, withdrawn and angry father.  It is hard not to invoke modern day psychological theories about mental health and criminal behaviour.  A great read and I would highly recommend it.  front-cover-ten-poems-of-kindness

My December visit – and I am thinking about Christmas cards.  Toppings carries a wide selection of little booklets of poetry – with envelopes – to be used “Instead of a Card”.  Ten poems about Christmas, or brothers, or Scotalnd, or cricket – even 10 poems about knitting.  But 10 poems about kindness is seasonal – and contains a collection of varied poetry – held together by a dedication to Felix Alexander – another 17 year old boy.  This time one who took his own life after years of online bullying.  The anthology contains an open letter written by his mother appealing for kindness……………………….

This year I have come away without my bird book – and I can’t keep texting Gill and Colin everytime I want a bird identified.  I am still very much a novice in this area and although Gill tries to educate me on our runs together – I’m honestly not getting much better.  So I invest in a bird book (the RSPB Everyday Guide to British Birds).  And a book to straddle ornithology, psychology, poetry and literature – Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter.   A beautiful little book (signed by the author) about loss an bereavement.  I still have to read and think about it – but is is a lovely book just to hold and look through.


So we leave St Andrews and there are many more books I want to buy so I will just have to plan a return visit to see Sam later this year.

On my list as “still want to read” are the new novel by Graeme Macrae Burnet –  The Accident on the A35 – and a book about Mindful Running – which promises to improve my life and my running………………………

If you are ever up there – then do pay them a visit………………………..

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