Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Back in May I posted about a visit to a famed antiquarian bookshop in Whitehaven - the fabulous Michael Moon's. Then the other day I was honoured (and embarassed - I think I called him an alien in the post...) by a comment from Mr Moon himself. Since the comment is lengthy, and definitely something special, I thought I'd share it below:-

Posted by bookman to Anna Lucia at 8/13/2006 05:04:59 PM
"I am visiting Edinburgh during the Festival, here for the purpose of looking after my daughter Fiona’s old cat Elso, whilst she has a well-earned week’s holiday in Ibiza. With her prior permission, I put on her computer to look out for old books on Cumbria. Specific ones on West Coast History and Topography which I can always use more of. Some published 30 years ago by myself, for which we still get occasional orders. Yes, when you start buying back books you originally published and sold in the days when I still had enough hair to run a comb through, you can say you are well established. Yes, do have a lap top, for letter writing and ticket writing - but umbilically speaking, I am not connected to the Web.

And what do you think? Whilst tapping in my wants details I came across a piece about my old bookshop in Whitehaven. Surprised I was - certainly and flattered definitely. Thank you Anna Lucia. Sadly only 100% of what you said, is true. Just joking.

It is a fact that the old bookshop in many large, even Cathedral Towns is a dying institution. Towns are redeveloped, rents become too high and the High Streets are filled with a raft of cloned branches of Spec Savers, Holiday Tour Operators and Mobile Phone Companies. Who says Talk is cheap?

Like multi channel TV, reading habits are changing. 50 years ago, when I was a boy I saved up my five shillings a week pocket money for many weeks to buy a set of Chamber’s Encyclopaedias costing just £4.00 When I finally got to the old bookshop with a bag of small change, it had been sold. Now Encyclopaedias s are dead in the water, with new style so-called minimalist homes ( for that read - too small) all the information you could possibly need, is at your finger tips on a small plastic disc, or taken off the web.

When all the lights go out and our electronic gismos fail. When Libraries have thrown out all their books onto skips at the behest of the accountants who now run our Area Authorities, we will need bookshops again. Now the public buys its books from grocers in pile ‘em high sell ‘em cheap supermarkets. When most of the staff who work in them are not legally old enough to operate a bacon-slicer, let alone answer questions - we are all in trouble. The family butchers – a dozen in every town - have all but gone. So too has the Ironmongers with its myriad of labelled wooden drawers and brass beam balance scales. Even the corner shop Family Grocer, who had a boy to deliver your weekly order on his bike. A shopkeeper who could bone and roll bacon, add up a list of groceries in his head and tell the difference between a Santa Clara Prune and a Vostizza Currant and give you a week’s credit, too. Gone! Time became our God and in the rush save it, and to find somewhere to park our cars too, we all began to shop all in one big place, doing all the work ourselves, running around like loons trying to get the better of a trolley with an attitude, whilst humming ‘Three wheels on my wagon’, and wondering why of all the ones you could have used, you had to pick this one. We just kept on `convenience shopping’ and left the specialists to their own fate.

There are now only 700 old bookshops left in the UK. Did you know that? The second- hand old bookshop has become one of the last places you can find, where the owner’s name is still painted over the window fascia - running his world in his own individual way, holding out against the encroaching sea of chrome and formica. Putting his style, stamp and quirky personality on his chosen profession. No one makes him do it. He does it because he wants to. Supermarkets, Charity Shops and WH Smith may be fine, but they don’t buy books back. That is what old bookshops do best. They are a rich source of rarely tapped information, which comes from long experience, specialist books of reference and a good and active memory. Not from a computer.

One day, the time may come when booksellers are paid by the local authorities to bring variety and serendipity back into town centres. But probably not in my lifetime.
As booksellers, we are in a way, keepers of the nation’s collective memory and we lose sight of that at our peril.

Michael Moon Antiquarian Bookseller Whitehaven Cumbria.
Finding new homes for old books since 1970.

Thanks for stopping by and for your interest.



At 8:13 am, Blogger Biddy said...

OK we are going to that shop next time I'm visiting!!!

At 2:13 pm, Blogger Melissa Marsh said...

I LOVE old bookstores. In fact, I would love to start one, but we already have a few really nice ones here in town (who sadly, do not stock romance novels).

At 2:45 pm, Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Blessings on Michael Moon. And on you, Anna, who brought me books about Millom from his shop when we visited there last year!

Hope all is well with you (and the turtle).

At 6:11 pm, Blogger Melani Blazer said...

What a wonderful comment. I would love to visit a bookstore rich with the wisdom of all those precious pages. And equally, to meet a man with the passion for such things.

*adds visit this shop to list of things I have to do before I die*

At 8:09 pm, Blogger Gabriele C. said...

My favourite book store closed some years ago. *sniff* It was located in an old half timbered house with lots of odd corners, stairs and nooks, every centimetre of space stuffed with books. Not only the ones that are sure sales, but lots of interesting ones with small print runs from minor publishers. And a big collection of Penguin Classics - a heaven for someone living in Germany before you could get most English books via Amazon.de. The owner was an avid Fantasy reader, too, and would reccommend you titles never avaliable on the German market.

Amazon is nice enough, but it doesn't make up for the lack of browsing all those books, sitting on some stairs while other customers had to step over you - which was never an issue because they would eventually join you on the stairs anyway.

At 12:25 pm, Blogger Sela Carsen said...

I have a Books*A*Million in town. I have two Barnes&Nobles in town. I have Amazon and Fictionwise and Alibris at my fingertips.

But nothing, *nothing* compares to a day I once spent in Portland OR at Powell's bookstore. It took up an entire city block. New books, used books. From philosophy to fluff. I nearly cried when it was time to leave.

Now they're online, too, but I miss the smell.

At 4:01 pm, Blogger Julie said...

What a wonderful message, and what a wonderful shop. The world needs more of them. It's sad we don't have them.

Also, isn't it very cool when somebody finds you at random on the internet and you find a like mind?


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