Brilliant bookshops & a statue

One of the fun things about travelling is popping into bookshops and browsing – we took some second-hand books bought at market stalls and book fairs to read and leave, but ended up bringing back more books than we’d left with!

Partly this is unavoidable because I love buying souvenir books from places like The Hermitage in St Petersburg and Hidcote Manor garden in Gloucestershire, so the weight starts to stack up from there.

But let me loose in a good bookshop and it’s hard to leave without something. Let’s follow our trail through bookstore purchases …

Haiku Husband ploughed through Northmen: The Viking Saga, purchased in Bergen, Norway – the book starts in 793, the year of the bloody raid on Lindisfarne (Holy Island) just off the northeast coast of England. As we were planning to visit Lindisfarne, it seemed a nice dovetail. The helpful young man behind the counter (red hair!) offered several Viking histories in English for us to choose from.

The fabulous NK department store in Stockholm also has a range of English books – we snagged a Michael Connelly thriller for the equivalent of $NZ12, very cheap for us (in New Zealand we pay about $35 for a new paperback). Established in 1915, the store is well worth visiting for the architecture alone, if not the ‘build-your-own-Magnum icecream stand! (We didn’t, the queue was too long.)

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The Maigret statue in Delfzijl, northern Netherlands. Georges Simenon and four of the actors who had played Maigret on television attended the unveiling in 1966. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In the small coastal town of Delfzijl in the northern Netherlands we chanced upon a statue of Maigret, the famous detective from the Quai des Orfevres in Paris. His creator, Georges Simenon, had stayed in Delfzijl in 1929 while his boat was being repaired and published Maigret in Holland 2 years later. In 1966 the Dutch publisher Bruna commissioned the statue for Delfzijl. Read more about Simenon and the Delfzijl statue.

Although Hatchard’s in London (booksellers since 1797) didn’t have A Crime in Holland (as it’s now been published in English), the helpful staffer checked her computer stock list and sent me a few metres down Picadilly to Waterstone’s.

When I lived in London in 1980s I went to a night class about the history of the city – our teacher Wilf was a taxman by day and a fount of arcane knowledge about the city the rest of the time. Most of the people in the class, including my work buddy Anita who introduced me to it, had been going for years. How to Read London by Chris Rogers (Ivy Press, 2017) is a guide to some of the city’s architecture, while London’s Oddities by Vicky Wilson (Metro Publications, 2018) does what it says on the tin – and answered a question after we’d seen a dingy sign for ‘Roman Baths’ in a side street. Not Roman at all, but an 18th century entrepreneur wanting to cash in! (The Bryant and May series of crime novels by Christopher Fowler contain many things I learned from Wilf and many other strange facts and pieces of almost-forgotten history about London.)

We also stumbled in to Stanford’s in Longacre one evening, thrilled to purchase a road atlas for England just a day or two before we took charge of a vehicle (which came with a SatNav – never mind, we probably did half and half).

Barter Books is a treasure trove of secondhand books housed in an old railway station in Alnwick, Northumberland, that comes complete with unfolding literary quotes and a model railway running round above your head! It’s also the home of the re-emergence of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster (and everything else). Read more about that here.

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Barter Books in Alnwick, Northumberland. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Burford is a beautiful small town in the heart of the Cotswolds (shame about the permanent traffic jam in the main street, but beauty comes at a price) – and home to the Madhatter Bookshop.

The assistant said the owner, Sara Hall, was looking for something to do with the extra floor space “and Burford has enough tea rooms” (it does!). Sara’s daughter reminded her that her great-grandmother had been a milliner so why not combine the bookshop with a hat shop? All the hats are made by British manufacturers.

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The hat section of the Madhatter Bookshop in Burford, Oxfordshire. The books are in a room to the right. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Our final stop was Weybridge in Surrey where the friends we were staying with pointed us to The Weybridge Bookshop. Despite its independent-sounding name, it’s actually a branch of Waterstone’s. The staff were very helpful, there was a great selection of books (yes, we purchased) and THEY WERE ALL CHEAPER THAN NEW ZEALAND. Paperbacks for about $NZ20. Did I mention we pay upwards of $35?

Why is the price so different? Because Britain doesn’t impose a tax (VAT) on printed books while New Zealand does (GST). Britain is also civilised enough not to charge VAT on fruit and vegetables and children’s clothing.