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A Remedy for Loneliness

“Did you know that Tolkien had a drinking club? He used to invite some writer friends to his parlor to drink and write for an evening.”

Overheard at Jarndyce Antiquarian Booksellers in London, from a staff member to an antique bookseller who was visiting from the U.S. Yes, I am sure he is from the U.S. That Texan accent can’t lie. 

London Review Bookshop, Bloomsbury

London Review Bookshop, Bloomsbury

“If you’re not too attached to that particular title, I suggest this one by the same author. That book is an absolute dud.”

Overheard at the London Review Bookshop, from a staff member at the cash register to a customer. I immediately approached him afterwards to ask for book recommendations.

Persephone Books, Lamb's Conduit Street

Persephone Books, Lamb’s Conduit Street

“I am glad my daughter broke her arm. She may only be seven years old, but now she knows the worst thing in the world from trying something out is to get herself broken, but she will turn out to be okay.”

Overheard at Persephone’s Bookshop, a feminist publishing house that reprints books from selected British female authors, when the cashier asked about the customer’s daughter while wrapping a book she bought.

Hatchard, St. Pancras Station

Hatchard, St. Pancras Station

“We’re out of snickerdoodles, would you like a can of Coca Cola instead? It is also from the U.S.”

Overheard at Hatchard bookstore at St. Pancras station. It celebrated the release of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman by offering “authentic American snickerdoodles” to customers.

The Economist's Bookshop, London School of Economics

The Economist’s Bookshop, London School of Economics

“We’re out of coffee. I repeat, we’re out of coffee!

Overheard at The Economist Bookshop, which promised free coffee to customers who bought Go Set a Watchman.

Waterstone's, Piccadilly

Waterstone’s, Piccadilly

“I just started chapter one in between my break. I haven’t read any of the reviews for Go Set a Watchman, but I think the book will be all right.”

Overheard behind the counter at Waterstone’s, Piccadilly. She was spared the agony I felt after I read Michiko Kakutani’s review of the book, just a few hours before.

Stanford's Bookshop, Covent Garden

Stanford’s Bookshop, Covent Garden

“Oh shit. Oooooh. Shit. Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit!!!!”

Overheard at Stanford’s, a travel-themed bookshop at Covent Garden. Two men in their twenties, both staff members, were talking about Go Set a Watchman and one of them decided to skip ahead to the middle of the book.  I hadn’t read the book at that time, but now that I have, I think I had the same expression on my face as the lad who skipped to the middle of the book.

 ***

There is no shortage of bookshops with character in London. I found a map of 104 independent bookstores in London at Cecil Court on my last day there, but even without that map I managed to stumble into bookshops that are taken care of by people who seem to genuinely love books. I have many reasons to visit bookshops when I travel. To find books that I don’t know about, books that I don’t get to see in Indonesia, books that I’d like to bring back to POST. To get to know the place better, for independent bookshops always carry the city’s psyche and let you in as if you’re one of its own. To dream about what POST could be one day and what we can start doing tomorrow, little by little. However, during that one week in London, my main reason to visit bookshops was to feel less lonely.

Traveling solo is not always easy for me. I enjoy my own company and very often travel alone for work, but at times my thoughts would run so fast they’d leave me feeling anxious and overwhelmed. Having a friend when I travel helps to ground the avalanche of thoughts, I can’t help feeling lonely when I am by myself for a long period of time. Going to independent bookshops is a way for me to feel less alone. I would find friends on the shelves; authors that I know and trust, books that I would like to get to know better. I find peace in the hum of a bookshop, eavesdropping on the conversations of people who love books as much as I do and feel a human connection.

Daunt Books, Maryleborne

Daunt Books, Maryleborne

During that one week in London, I could relate to the panic of running a bookshop, the desire to steer a customer away from bad books, the feeling that some customers have grown to be more than people who buy books from you. I felt as gleeful when I heard about Tolkien’s drinking club as a fan would when they found out about the pre-concert ritual of their rock star idols. Strangers we may be, but we are bound by stories and love for the written word.

Most of all, I was grateful for all the people who was as shaken by Go Set a Watchman as I was. Like so many bookworms in the world, I have read To Kill a Mockingbird in my childhood and loved it to pieces. Atticus Finch is the father figure I wish I had. Growing up, I have asked myself “What would Atticus do?” when facing a dilemma, just as Scout does. Like so many readers, I rejoiced when HarperCollins announced that Harper Lee has allowed the first draft of the book that would then become To Kill a Mockingbird to be published. I read enough to know that the circumstances behind the publication is murky, that it is unedited, and also that Go Set a Watchman is not a sequel, although it deals with the same characters and is set years after To Kill a Mockingbird.

However, no amount of reading and mental preparation could have eased the shock I felt when Michiko Kakutani casually dropped that Atticus Finch is a racist in Watchman. Her review of the book was published by the New York Times only one day before all the bookshops in the world celebrated the release with midnight parties and snickerdoodles and free coffee. I was ready to jump into the party, but once I read her review I mourned instead. I knew that a part of my childhood would be turned upside down and I longed for a friend who would understand. It wasn’t until I overheard people talking about the book in the bookshops that I felt less alone. Atticus Finch was a work of fiction, but he had become real to so many people and all of us have to deal with the loss of the Atticus Finch we had in our lives.

The Dusty Sneakers I Go Set a Watchman

Thank you, independent bookshops of London, for making a woman feel less lonely in your cold British summer.

Gypsytoes

 

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17 Comments

  1. Thanks to you I’ve started buying books again! People are going to kill me, I can feel it coming, my librarian friends are going to say “why can’t you go to a library, saves you money” argh!!

  2. Aku harus berulangkali menutup page ini untuk kemudian membuka kamus, lalu kembali lagi ke sini agar bisa rampung membacanya. Sebuah perjuangan yang tak mudah 😂

    Anyway, terima kasih untuk jepretan kameranya yang indah. Walaupun akhirnya aku tetap bingung dengan isi tulisannya, percayalah, bahkan dengan pikiran sendiripun aku kerap kebingungan.

  3. I love London Review Bookshop :)) Mereka punya White Peony and Rose Buds Tea yang menenangkan saat diminum sambil baca buku atau menulis di kafenya^^ Thanks buat peta independent bookshopnya Mbak, satu bulan terakhir di Inggris sepertinya seru juga untuk menjelajah toko buku itu :))

    • London Review Bookshop memang menyenangkan! Kabari ya kamu jadinya ke toko buku mana saja, aku penasaran dengan skena toko buku independen di London. Selamat menjelajah! 😀

  4. Gypsytoes, foto-fotonya seger-seger deh… Dan, “Would you like a can of Coca Cola instead? It is also from the U.S.” *LOL*

    Aduh, jadi harap-harap cemas mau baca Go Set a Watchman…

  5. Fotonya bagus-bagus banget. Kalo toko bukunya seperti ini, rasanya akan betah di dalam. Aku baru kelar baca To Kill A Mockingbird (telat banget yah). 😀 Sepertinya cuti berikutnya akan mencari “Go Set a Watchman”.

  6. nianastiti

    This post remind me to go back spending my lonely time with the books. I really need it once in a while. 🙂

  7. Pingback: The Dusty Sneakers — A review | life is short, make it sweet!

  8. OMG i love this post!
    “I find peace in the hum of a bookshop, eavesdropping on the conversations of people who love books as much as I do and feel a human connection.” << soooo true. Some of my friends asked me why I haven't bought a kindle, and I told them I love being practical, but for books, I love to go to bookshops and just enjoy my time there and meet other bookworms. And I love to take a break when reading a book just to smell the papers..close my eyes for a while and just breathe in between pages. That's why I have ebooks but always print them when I wanna read them. Haha. I think we've met before at POST 🙂

  9. I really miss London, and especially it’s bookstores. Entah kenapa membeli buku di London rasanya begitu murah. Bisa penuh koper karena membrong buku-buku murah nan bagus di sana.

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