After my week looking for people out and about reading books, I realised I’d missed something important: assuming people are reading, where do people go to buy these books if not online?
Apart from Waterstones, the list of booksellers on the high street is not exhaustive. Now, this is not a rant against the all-conquering Waterstones. I actually like Waterstones. It is packed floor to ceiling with brand new, fresh-smelling books, after all. But that is also part of the problem. The stock is all brand new, even the classics. If you want a copy of Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë, you need to buy it in a repacked version, complete with a 21st century cover, perhaps cashing in on the latest movie version. Where do you go if you want something different, something with a bit of history?
This is where Young’s Interesting Books comes in. The shop is on Skirving Street in Shawlands in Glasgow’s Southside, a little oasis of book buying pleasure barely bigger than most people’s front rooms. Stepping into Young’s is like stepping into a random time machine of books, its contents at the complete whim of its two proprietors. They like science fiction, crime, horror, Scottish and Irish fiction, classic literary fiction, history, music, philosophy: and so that is what they stock. You’re likely to find the writings of an early Karl Marx rubbing shoulders with Agatha Christie, HP Lovecraft, Raymond Carver, Flann O’Brien and Muriel Spark, not to mention countless books from writers less well known. Not only that, but very often these will be issues saved from the great pulping machine in the sky, ones with cover prices in shillings and pence and pages yellowed with age. If you find a copy of something you like here, you can be sure it will pretty unique. In particular, the science fiction, crime and horror will often be in the form of original issues from the 50s and 60s, when clearly the name of the publishing game was to stick as many comic book fonts and psychedelic colours on the front as possible. The owners of Young’s tell me that this is their unique selling point: that you never know what you’re going to get. If they see something they like, they simply buy it and put it in the shop; and people go in off the street looking for a gift that they know they can’t get anywhere else. For the longest time, however, I had thought it a minor miracle such a shop still survives, but in fact the owners tell me that in the twenty years they have been open business has improved each year. This is testament to the fact that if you love something, and put the effort in to doing it well, you will find your audience.
Stepping into Young’s also reminds me of what makes Ringwood unique: because you never know what you might get with Ringwood either. Every book at Ringwood is by definition something you won’t find elsewhere. All the books are by Scottish authors, books based often in Scotland, with unique themes and experiences. Having a random browse through the Ringwood catalogue often throws up something unexpected. Last December, I went to a Ringwood event and heard a talk by Susan Campbell, author of Ronnie: A Dog Owner’s Guide to Fulfilment. The book sounded like something my mum would enjoy, so I bought her a copy for Christmas. She loved it. Now, when I go to visit, I can see it on the bookshelf next to the usual books about gardening and model trains (my stepdad), something that I know would not have happened without Ringwood. This reminded me that often a book is not just a good read: the moment you buy it, it also becomes a physical artefact, something that will go on to endure long after the initial first read is over. In a world of often identical, ephemeral experiences, it is the reason why shops like Young’s and publishers like Ringwood will continue to find their market.
Article by Dan Whitehead