Just For Fun

A Love Letter to Bookshops

by Veronica Henry

Photo credit: PeopleImages, E+ Collection/Getty Images

I was born a bookworm. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t read: It was almost like breathing to me. A sixth sense. I didn’t really have any other interests. My main aim in life was to scuttle away and curl up with a book — in my bedroom, under a tree, in the bath. The only place I couldn’t read was in the car, because it made me feel sick, so journeys to me were a waste of valuable time. My fictional worlds took me to all the places I needed to go and I experienced everything vicariously.

My father would take me to the nearest bookshop every Saturday morning, my pocket money clutched in my hand. He was in the army, so we moved every two years, but bookshops were reassuringly the same wherever we lived. There was an order in their shelves that I found profoundly comforting. They started with A and ended in Z, and in between were hundreds of new friends waiting to be met, new lands waiting to be discovered. He would wait patiently while I browsed — after all, a bookshop is the one place you can linger for a long time without anyone becoming suspicious or impatient. And the choosing of a new book is something that cannot be rushed.

And so started my lifelong love affair with bookshops. Bookshops are a gateway to another world. There is nothing like the tingle of expectation as you step over the threshold. The best ones mix the comfortingly familiar with the tantalizingly new, juxtaposing old favorites with the latest discoveries. They make it easy for you to take risks. A good bookseller will understand your tastes and lead you into new pastures. And so it’s never really a risk. Books make us who we are.

One day I was thinking up the setting for How to Find Love in a Bookshop in a tiny bookshop in the Cotswolds when I noticed a feeling of calm, contentment, and excitement come over me. It was a feeling of perfect happiness. That was my lightbulb moment: My next book would be set in a bookshop, because I knew my readers would be able to relate to that sensation, and I could explore what books meant to each of my characters and how they had shaped their lives.

The title of How to Find Love in a Bookshop isn’t just about discovering romantic love. It’s about finding the love of books: something that can sustain you throughout your life, and provide escape, entertainment, education, comfort, wonder. And, as I learned from my own father, it’s a love you can share with everyone in your family. There is nothing more satisfying than sharing something you have read with someone else, knowing they will love it as much as you do.

But if we are to keep bookshops alive, we need to use them, and to encourage the next generation to make them a part of their life and view bookshops as a treat, a pleasure, an adventure, a gateway. So they become a necessity. Something we can’t live without.

Thus my challenge to you, fellow reader, is to go to your local bookshop and come out with something that might change your life.