Shanghai: City of Books

March 26th, 2010 by | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Shanghai: City of Books
Tags: , ,

099Shanghai is known for its skyscrapers, the Bund and the financial district, its Art Deco buildings, some delicious food, and the forthcoming Expo 2010. But in a recent trip to the city, it became clear that Shanghai is also a City of Books.

On Fuzhou Road, the ‘book street’ of Shanghai (rather a different feel to London’s Charing Cross Road), shops include the Shanghai Ancient Bookstore, the Shanghai Foreign Language Bookstore (currently with a very enticing display of English-language books on Shanghai and China), and the piece-de-resistance, the multi-storey Shanghai City of Books, which was buzzing with readers and book-buyers at the end of the working day.

 112In-store promotions included book covers printed onto the escalator hand rail, something I’d never seen before, and which made me stop to look at the big pile of books it was promoting. I hope no-one noticed me going up and down the escalator several times to examine this point of sale. Never surprised by my capacity to acquire books in languages I can’t actually read, I amused myself by buying a copy of The Blue Lotus, the Tintin adventure set in China.

A bookshop epiphany

February 13th, 2010 by | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on A bookshop epiphany
Tags: ,

This blog has previously featured depressing news from the book retail industry, but I wanted to post some more positive thoughts about what you might call ‘the bookshop experience’ – or, in this case, a bookshop epiphany.

Charlie Byrne's BookshopI’ve just returned from Galway, Ireland, where I was giving a talk on children’s publishing. Every time I visit the city, I take the time to visit Charlie Byrne’s, a treasure trove of a bookshop, an enticing mix of new, second-hand and remaindered titles. It’s the sort of bookshop that gently encourages the reader more used to the standardised, heavily-discounted offer of the chain stores to stop and think, and to fall in love with reading again.

Second-hand bookshops are particularly good at making you do this, I think, nudging you to escape the hold of the frontlist and the hyped, for more unpredictable territories.

Charlie Byrne’s isn’t a snobbish place, though – alongside its Irish-language books and academic texts, it has a lively children’s section, popular fiction, and a wall bustling with notices about arts-oriented events taking place round the city. The company also, as its website informs, ‘sells used books in larger quantities to be used as decoration or “furniture” in restaurants, pubs, shops, etc.’  Literature as wallpaper?

I first visited Charlie Byrne’s when I was working in publishing, at Hodder & Stoughton. At this time in the mid-1990s, Hodder was one of the most commercially-oriented trade publishers, and was instrumental in sounding the death knell of the Net Book Agreement and the rise of the 3-for-2 sales culture of the 2000s. I was happy in the job, though, working on Hodder’s literary imprint Sceptre, with authors including Melvyn Bragg, Jill Dawson, Siri Hustvedt, Andrei Makine, Andrew Miller and David Mitchell.

But that rainy Irish summer day, with time to kill, happily, in a bookshop, I suddenly decided I wanted to go back to university – to take the time to think a bit more about authors, books, readers and the process – ‘publishing’ – by which all these are brought together. For me, it was a good decision, and every time I have the opportunity to go back to Galway, I remember that moment, revisit Charlie Byrne’s, and go home with a suitcase full of books.

Has a bookshop ever changed the course of your life? Or do you simply have a favourite bookshop you’d like to tell everyone about? Let us know…

Claire Squires