Browse: Love Letters to Bookshops Around the World edited by Henry Hitchings

Cover image This is the kind of book I’d have had stacked up at till points back in my bookselling days, aiming it squarely at the Christmas stockings of the bookish. It brought to mind Jorge Carrión’s Bookshops which I reviewed here a few years ago but Browse is much more of a book to dip into. Henry Hitchings’ introduction recalls some of his own bookshop experiences setting us up nicely for the essays to come, each very personal.

Htichings has rustled up contributors from around the world from Ali Smith to Dorthe Nors, Yiyun Li to Ala Al Aswany. There are fifteen essays in all, some entertaining some more sober, all interesting to the anoraks amongst us. I enjoyed each of them but should you need your appetite whetted here are some of my favourites beginning with Ali Smith who volunteers in her local Amnesty International bookshop where the bits and pieces of people’s lives found in the books they donate tell her as much about the locals as its eclectic stock.

Alaa Al Aswany recalls his signing at a Cairo bookshop on the eve of the 2011 Tahrir Square occupation and his realisation that his country’s plight was far worse than he’d thought.

Pankaj Mishra pays tribute to the erudite owner – infuriated both by well-heeled customers demanding discounts and ignorant sales reps – of Fact and Fiction, a small bookshop in South Delhi which he first visited in 1989, acknowledging Ajit’s formative influence on him.

Bukinist in Chernivtsi, Ukraine is one of the many second-hand bookshops in which Andrey Kurkov conducted his fruitless search for a The Ballads of Kukutis under the indulgent eye of its owner, used to an ‘eccentric urban bibliophile, always searching for something that doesn’t exist’.

Daniel Kehlmann takes us to Dussman, a bookshop I fell in love with on my last trip to Berlin, with his amusing conversation between two writers, one singing the praises of Dussman to the other as a model of the popular idea of Germany: neat, ordered and staffed by knowledgeable booksellers who restrain themselves from forcing their own taste on their customers.

Bosnian writer Saša Stanišić offers a witty piece about the anxiety of finding a dealer to feed his habit in his new home city only to be approached by one who introduces him to all manner of ‘substances’.

I’ll leave you with Ian Sansom’s memories of working at Foyles in the ’90s when Christina Foyle still ruled the roost and Danny La Rue lived above the shop. Sansom left after two years, although he jumped rather than waiting to be pushed as so many Foyles booksellers were in those days, just before their employment rights kicked in. I wonder if the new Foyles, now under Waterstones’ wing, will have strategic piles of Browse, artfully displayed next to tills.

22 thoughts on “Browse: Love Letters to Bookshops Around the World edited by Henry Hitchings”

  1. This is going straight on the ‘must buy’ list. I have a friend who could write a series of essays on her own about libraries she has known and loved. I must suggest it to her.

  2. When I was working in Berlin in 2008, I could walk up to Dussmann and back in my lunch break. I didn’t get to know the whole store, but I got to know the sheet music and Krimi sections quite well.

    1. I’m not sure if the English language section was open then, April. It had the air of a possible new addition when I visited two years ago or perhaps an expanded version. The whole place felt like an arts centre within a bookshop. I loved it.

  3. Pingback: Stuck in a Book’s Weekend Miscellany – Stuck in a Book

  4. This sounds marvellous – is there anything better than a book about books and bookshops? I do love Ian Sansom too, I’m doing a giveaway of his new book in a week or so!

    1. It’s the perfect book for the bookish, Cathy! I’ve Ian Sansom to thank for enlightening me about Danny la Rue living above Foyles. There’s a great bit about him in Sansom’s piece.

  5. This is a perfect Christmas treat for bibliophiles isn’t it? I love finding the bits left in my charity book buys so the Ali Smith section really appeals. I know someone who worked at Foyles under Christina – what a character, to say the least! Although I’ll never miss that weird ticket system they had, I do grieve somewhat for the loss of its idiosyncrasies, even though the shop makes much better sense now 😀

  6. What a wonderful idea for a book! I feel like there have been so many good books about books come out lately that I could probably fill a whole year reading them. That would make a fun project… 🙂

  7. What a gem of a book. Mention of things that people leave in books reminded me of a book I got from a second hand shop in Cardiff and found two crisp and pristine £10 notes instead. I was just picking up the phone to the shop in case a customer had reported a loss when my husband revealed he thought they were fake. Which set up another puzzle entirely – why would someone hide fake notes in a book???

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