Tales from the bookshop: June 2022

Sitting lemur, minimalist style

'Perhaps I need to improve our range of expensive books on Madagascan primates' - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Adventures with Hereward Corbett of the Yellow-Lighted Bookshops

Last month I took a week off.

When you run your own business, the notion of having time off (I hardly ever think of it as being a holiday), is always both opaque and quite stressful. Opaque because you can rarely, if ever, leave work completely – and stressful because that is exactly what you need to do in order to recharge your enthusiasm, clear out your head, and spend decent time with your family at home. As ever, it becomes a compromise. 

Running a bookshop isn’t especially difficult. In fact, it’s quite easy – it must be if I can  do it. The challenges come partly from within – I want our bookshops to be really good – and partly from a range of external factors. Customers can have very high expectations.

This week a customer asked for a coffee table book about lemurs, and was genuinely shocked when I told her that not only did we not have such a thing, but there actually was no such thing. She left, saying that she’d look online, utterly confident that her book must exist. It reminded me of the customer some years ago who asked about where our Amish cookery section was.

I understand why customers can have these expectations, even of a small bookshop in a rural Cotswold town. The 21st century seems to be all about choice – but choices to which we are driven, rather than choices which we make ourselves.

The non-stop battering of opinion and news, both online and through traditional media, also creates a hostile environment for all of us. You’d think that the book trade might be exempt, but it is full of people with opinions, who want to be heard, and who can turn a phrase and take a photo. All very exciting, but it means that we are constantly assailed by examples of the amazing things that other people do, and an endless torrent of new books, enticingly displayed… 

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So I look at myself – tired and clapped out, not photogenic, a slow reader, not always managing my returns, or with tables that might not have the latest titles and shelves that probably need dusting – and think that I need to do more, work harder, constantly do better, sell more books and keep the show on the road. Maybe improve our range of expensive books on Madagascan primates.

But in fact I need to sit in the garden and watch the bees. Take the dog for a walk. Check how my seeds are doing. Make a cake. Have a nap. Talk to my family.

Read a book.

Follow Hereward on Twitter: @YLBookshop

BOOK REVIEWS

A Fortunate Woman, by Polly Morland

A Fortunate Woman, by Polly Morland - Credit: Picador

A Fortunate Woman
by Polly Morland

Inspired by John Berger’s A Fortunate Man in which Berger wrote about the life of a rural doctor in an especially remote part of the Forest of Dean in 1967. Morland writes about Rebecca Summer, a family doctor working in the same rural valley 50 years later: she knows her patients, she knows their lives inside and out, and knows their community – and she was inspired to be a doctor by the same book.
Picador, £16.99

Land Healer, by Jake Fiennes

Land Healer, by Jake Fiennes - Credit: Penguin


Land Healer
by Jake Fiennes

Fiennes is head of conservation at Norfolk’s 25,000-acre Holkham Estate. It is partly a memoir, but also explores how this period of dramatic change in UK farming, with the shift from EU subsidies to environmental incentives, has created what he calls 'a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a significant difference very quickly'. His is a very positive, local, low key approach, arguing for small interventions that can deliver significant change.
Penguin, £20