First bookstore

Back in 1980 Ely had only one bookshop, Bennett’s
Back in 1980 Ely had only one bookshop, Bennett’s — now a tea house

My first visit to a bookshop was an occasion which I can still remember, and it set a pattern for a love of books which has lasted all my life. I grew up in Ely, Cambridgeshire, a small cathedral city in the Cambridgeshire fens. Back in 1980 Ely had only one bookshop, Bennett’s. It was a fabulous place, crammed with books, and to 9 year old me it seemed enormous. It’s not there now – a tea-room occupies the building – and it’s a building which looks so tiny it’s a wonder it could of been a bookshop at all. But to me, it was a place to explore with my mum and lose myself in.

Mum had bought me books from Bennett’s before, but for a recent birthday my grandmother had sent me a book voucher, and this seemed like a very grown-up and serious thing. I had permission to buy whatever I wanted, and I couldn’t wait to exchange this important-looking piece of paper for a book of my own – and I knew just which one I wanted.

I’d seen Tove Jansson’s Finn Family Moomintroll in the shop before, drawn in by the cover and confusing title. What was a Finn? What was a Moomintroll? I was puzzled, and I wanted in on the secret of the Moomins, and the mysterious-sounding writer, Tove Jansson. I had never heard of anyone called Tove before. The front cover was brilliant, and more confusing still. There was a Moomin in a hat, Moomins on clouds, and a host of other strange-looking creatures on the back cover to find out about. It was like nothing I had ever seen.

Carefully carrying my prize to the counter, the sale of the book was written up in a large ledger, which gave the occasion even more grown-up importance. I felt so proud handing over my book token. The book was placed inside a paper bag, and I clutched it all the way home.

I loved reading Finn Family Moomintroll. I felt as if I could wrap myself up in the story and the characters. I loved the illustrations, the map to refer to as the story unfolded, and the crazily-written introduction from MoominMamma. I felt as if it had been written just for me, and I read it again and again. I saved up my pocket money and eventually I had a whole Moomin series to explore. But none of the other books made me as happy as the first one. I have it still, and looking back, it was a wonderful choice to begin my journey of reading.

Finn Family Moomintroll front cover
Finn Family Moomintroll (front cover)
Finn Family Moomintroll back cover
Finn Family Moomintroll (back cover)

One comment

  1. Oh, my good man and ol’ teammate, this. Is. Priceless.
    “What was a Finn? What was a Moomintroll? I was puzzled, and I wanted in on the secret…”
    Your beautifully written piece is what reading and writing stories is all about. Should be your start of a book, sir.

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