We all loved Weird Things People Say in Bookshops (if you haven’t looked through a copy – it’s hilarious), and now Jen Campbell is back with The Bookshop Book, which features contributions from the likes of Bill Bryson, Jacqueline Wilson, Tracey Chevalier, and many more.
Since there will be another series of My Life in Books here at Stuck-in-a-Book very soon, I thought it would be fun to ask Jen to answer the questions – with a bit of a bookshop twist. Over to you, Jen!
1.) Did you grow up in a book-loving household, and did your parents read to you? Pick a favourite book and a favourite bookshop from your childhood, and tell me about it.
My mum reads a lot, and my dad used to read to me before bed every night. I actually spent a lot of time in hospital as a child, and books were a form of escape for me. A way to slip into other worlds unnoticed and have adventures in my head. I grew up in the north east of England, and there aren’t many bookshops there but we’d go to a place called Hill’s in Sunderland and get lost among the shelves. A childhood favourite is Green Smoke by Rosemary Manning, about a dragon who lives in a cave in Cornwall, and a girl called Susan who goes to visit him, taking him doughnuts in exchange for stories about King Arthur.
2.) What was one of the first ‘grown-up’ books that you really enjoyed? What was going on in your life at this point?
Probably The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood… or if we’re talking teenage grown-up books then probably Just As Long As We’re Together by Judy Blume… ah, Judy. I read the latter on a beach in Portugal during the Easter holidays and remember loudly asking my mother about periods in front of lots of other people, much to her embarrassment. The Handmaid’s Tale I read many years later, and completely fell in love. It was my portal to dystopian literature.
3.) Pick a favourite book that you read in your 20s – especially if it’s one which helped set you off in a certain direction in life – and what were your favourite bookshops at this time?
Perhaps discovering Ali Smith in my early 20s (I’m 27 now). The way she writes astounds me – especially her short stories, and her play ‘The Seer.’ She’s got a way of unravelling the world, and it’s beautiful. She’s had a big influence on my writing.
My favourite bookshops when I was 20 was The Edinburgh Bookshop (where I got my first job as a bookseller) and Till’s. Till’s is a secondhand bookshop, also in Edinburgh, that smells of dust and vanilla and really good books. Now I work at Ripping Yarns, an antiquarian bookshop in north London that looks like the Burrow from Harry Potter – as in it looks as though it’s held up by magic, and one day I’m going to pull the wrong book off the shelf and the whole place will come tumbling down. I love it.
4.) What’s one of your favourite books that you’ve found in the last year or two?
Can I pick a few? The Age of Miracles
by Karen Thompson Walker, A Tale for the Time Being
by Ruth Ozeki and The Girl with all the Gifts
by MR Carey. (If you’d like to know more, I chat about books that I love over on my Youtube channel
5.) Finally – a guilty pleasure, or a favourite that might surprise people! And the most delightful bookshop you’ve ever come across.
Well, I reread His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman every winter… though that might not surprise people. I also like to relisten to Harry Potter audio books on long train journeys… though that might not surprise people, either! Hmmm. I have a secret love for the circus, and the history of freak shows. Probably to do with the fact that I have EEC Syndrome, and if I’d been born 100 years ago, I might have found myself in one. So, I have quite a collection of books on those subjects, and a large number of books on fairy tales from different parts of the world. The history of fairy tales fascinates me!
Picking a favourite bookshop is no easy task. Especially when my new book The Bookshop Book looks at over 300 around the world. Hmmm. There’s The Book Barge, run by Sarah Henshaw – one woman’s quest to prove that books were worth something, by travelling around the UK in a bookshop boat, bartering books for food; Wigtown Book Town in Scotland, home to one of the best bookshop love stories, and a bookshop that performs weddings. A bookshop shaped like a cat in Japan; a bookshop that also sells cows in Kenya; a secret bookshop without an address in New York City; and a bookshop on the back of a donkey in Colombia… but perhaps one of my very favourites is Librairie Papillon in Mongolia, run by a guy from France called Sebastien, who bought the bookshop for his wife as a wedding present. They not only sell books to residents in Ulaanbaatar, but they also sell books to herders of the Altai mountains and Gobi desert. Stories that keep them company in elemental conditions, hundreds of miles away from the nearest city. I think that’s pretty special.