Recently, I wrote about Bookshop Memories, George Orwell’s essay about his experience working in a second-hand bookshop in London in the 1930s. Seventy years later it seems some things, at least, have not changed. Steerforth, who blogs at The Age of Uncertainty, describes his considerably longer tenure at a branch of Waterstone’s bookstore in a suburb of London. It is reassuring to read, that now, as in Orwell’s time, book shops appear to continue as havens for eccentrics who can spend as much time as they wish among books.
The evolution of celebrity authors has undeniably added a a gloss of glitz to the atmosphere of many shops where their appearances draw crowds of fans. (Within the last year, while strolling down Fifth Avenue, we encountered gaggles of tearful girls who had just left a Justin Bieber signing at a Barnes & Noble branch.) But even in this environment, a spirit of democratic openness (or benign indifference) on the part of booksellers seems to persist. At a recent reading at another Barnes and Noble branch, a woman seated behind me appeared to be a regular attendee at these events, enjoying the company of other book lovers and the sociability of a night at the store without caring much about the specific topic or author. “Who is it tonight?” she asked a neighbor. “Last night’s reader was late and I had to go home.”