I was near Gun Street in Reading today and recalled with fondness the bookshop which used to be there many years ago. It has imprinted on me as the bookshop all others ought to resemble. I can still recall the layout with a gallery overhanging the main space underneath, into which you descended on entering. I think it specialised in paperbacks.
Central Reading now has only one bookshop, a Waterstone’s where I looked in vain for a copy of The Buildings of England for Berkshire. (We already have a copy, but of Pevsner’s original volume, which is one of his weaker ones. The revision is much improved.)
I reflected further on how bookshops come and go. It isn’t all a story of decline. Where I live now in Bath, there was an independent bookshop, Whiteman’s, just East of the Abbey. It was decidedly eccentric as it specialised in books of local interest, maps and travel, and books about trains. Whiteman’s has gone, but we now have Toppings and Mr B’s, each with its own emphasis, but with a far better general stock.
Bristol is less fortunate. It has a large Russell Group university but the bookshop in Park St, latterly a Blackwell’s outlet, which served as the University bookshop has closed recently. No one seems embarrassed by the fact that there isn’t a University bookshop covering the full range of academic subjects; the one in the Students’ Union building is very small and restricted.