I recently carried out some research into independent bookshops in Scotland. This research builds on my ongoing interest into books, bookshops and authors, which emerged from working in Waterstone’s for many years and then doing a PhD on bookshops and bookselling culture. While my previous research had tended to focus on chain bookshops, I became interested in exploring the role of independents (Indies) as I feel, despite the many economic challenges they face, they seem to have a growing relevance and presence in the bookselling arena, and perhaps more importantly, are tied inextricably to our growing cultural interest in all things artisan, individual and unique. This is evidenced by the growth of book festivals in Scotland, and the distinctive consumption experience that so many people are now looking for.
It is now 90 days since lockdown began in Wales, and I am still wishing I had stopped at my local bookstore on my way home the day before it happened.
This exile from the space of the bookstore has developed my appreciation for the experience offered by that counter-space where commerce and culture agree a tenuous pact of co-existence. This balancing act happens within an identifiable physical location, within borders defined by the walls of the room, the limits of the market stall, or the edges of the book table. Within that defined space, that cultural / commercial balance creates a meaningful location, a normalcy specific to that space–a type of commercial and a cultural identity that may not exist beyond its bounds. Such meaningful locations exist in more than just bookstores, of course. Churches, hospitals, ancient monuments, the local garden centre, the town recycling centre–all of these spaces define a normalcy that dissipates as one moves away from them.