Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?
- Henry Ward Beecher
Henry never got to use Amazon; it would have severely tested his ability to resist buying books, wouldn't it? Yes, we are weakened even more by the ease with which we can consume, these days. One click - done. But as great as online shopping is, a bookshop still matters. Therein lies the rub: the lure of a seemingly endless selection versus the limits of the physical world.
London, like most major cities I suppose, has seen its independent bookshops rapidly disappear, thanks largely to online shopping. I'm as guilty as the next book-lover of helping bang nails in that particular coffin. Yesterday, though, I went to Black Gull Books at Camden Market, where the woman behind the counter reminded me that they had a store in East Finchley, so I went there today.
Yes, it's a proper second-hand bookshop, stacked with goodies. I had to stay strong so as to emerge without having done too much damage to my bank balance. I know the owner, Chris, from when we had a stall at Camden Market, where his shop started, in the early 90s (I think that was before the Finchley shop). Back then the market was still, just about, an interesting place to browse, but the owners were gentrifying it fast and hiking the table rent prices accordingly.
Nowadays it's a lot of food, crap tourist paraphernalia and the occasional worthwhile independent stall, as far as I can tell. I never stay long on my rare visits, having already endured the endless t-shirt/hat/tat-selling high street merchants to get there. And the tourists, who have always gone there, of course, but perhaps they now seek the ghost of Amy Winehouse and the booze 'n' drugs-fuelled spirit of Indie Camden! I don't know. If you're in London, however, go to the Black Gull bookshop at the market, or this one in East Finchley. The art book selection is superb so give in to your weakness and help keep the place alive.