Bookshops vs. Bookstores

Last time I went to Lakeside (the second largest shopping mall in the UK) I commented that it seemed the Americans had arrived. It has Taco Bell, a gelato stand, and adverts for Mountain Dew although I still haven't found any in the shops. Well, on Saturday I discovered that the American bookstore has also arrived on these hallowed shores.

On my first visit to Florida (my honeymoon in 2006) I went into a Barnes and Noble bookstore in Orlando. It was my first visit to an American bookshop and was blown away by how wonderful it was. First off, it was far bigger than any bookshop I'd been into in the UK but that didn't surprise me, because everything in America is bigger. What amazed me was the atmosphere, and the fact that they seemed to want you to be there looking at the books. There was a wonderful colourful children's area with a cute little safety fence around it to stop your sprog wandering off, and plenty of toys and play activities for the children to enjoy as well as the books. There were sofas and chairs, so browsing was comfortable and enjoyable, and even a coffee shop so that you could enjoy refreshments as you flicked through the books.

Contrast that with my experience of UK bookshops which are, obviously, much smaller and won't have any chairs at all, let alone comfortable ones. If you read much more than the backliner the scruffy owner will be at your shoulder to remind you in a menacing tone that he isn't running a library. Moreover, there are no price stickers to be seen anywhere. The price the publishers printed on the back of the book is the price you pay. If you're lucky they might accept book tokens.

But Waterstones in Lakeside has a sofa and two comfortable armchairs. Nearby is a computer terminal with a search facility enabling you to find out quickly and easily whether they stock the book you want and where in the shop you might find it. There is even a branch of Costa Coffee at the back of the store. Best of all, there are price stickers on the books, and offers. I bought a book for £4 when the publishers RRP was £7.99, and also took advantage of the "Buy one, get one for £1" offer saving myself £5.99. There were helpful flyers with suggestions that if you like one particular author, you might enjoy another author who writes in a similar style or genre, and the uniformed staff were friendly and helpful and seemed to rather enjoy being there, and to be avid readers themselves. Everything about it said that reading is a great pass time, and one the store wanted to encourage, even if it was on the premises.

There are many things about America which I would welcome here. Taco Bell and Mexican food in general. Big washing machines and dryers. Basements. Of course, there are other things I don't want under any circumstances - liberal gun laws and private healthcare. But the bookstore that celebrates reading I more than welcome. Bring on the rest of the invasion!


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