I’ve often lamented that I find it somewhat difficult to patronise actual bricks-and-mortar bookshops, something I’d dearly love to do if only it were possible. Newcastle City Centre boasts only two bookshops nowadays, both of which belong to chains and neither of which stock the books I require for my PhD, so I have little choice but to head to Amazon and buy online.
Of course, as much as I think it’s important to spend money in actual shops, sometimes it’s nice just to find somewhere to go to discover new books. Sure, libraries offer a vast array of books and it costs nothing to borrow, but what about those times when you don’t want to have time constraints put on your reading, for fear of incurring overdue fines? Enter the second-hand bookshop.
I used to be a big fan of the Book and Comic Exchange in Notting Hill when I lived in London. You’d take in your old books, get 50p cash (or £1 credit, although that seemed to go down to 50p) and find new books. Obviously it’s a bit far to go there these days, but living in the North East has a distinct advantage – the famous Barter Books is in Alnwick, home of Alnwick Castle (which stood in for Hogwarts’ exterior in the first two Harry Potter movies).
Barter Books began way back in 1991 when Mary Manley opened a secondhand bookshop in the front room of Alnwick’s old Victorian railway station. These days it occupies the whole building, and offers a range of books, both fiction and non-fiction alike, while a growing CD and DVD section has been added to meet demand. Some of the books are extremely old, some outdated, and others almost brand new, but the whole system works upon the idea of the “barter” – you take in a pile of your old books, and the shop issues you with a valuation receipt, which can be redeemed against new purchases. Anything they don’t want they’ll return to you. So today, I took in two huge carrier bags of books and got almost £20 of credit, which I spent immediately on books about film theory.
I can’t actually recommend a visit enough. The fact it’s in an old Victorian railway station is cool enough, and the trading principle is even better, but the choice available is by far its biggest selling point. The fiction covers most genres, sporting both well-known names and unknowns, and the non-fiction variety is brilliant. Sure, a lot of the books are massively out-of-date (don’t expect any recent photography texts) and some of them are so old they probably need restoration, but you can find some real gems among the titles on offer. Indeed, the two film books I bought were cheaper to buy second-hand in Barter Books than they would be to buy second-hand through Amazon – and that was before I even cashed in the credit from the books I put in to barter.
Barter Books is a beautiful building, and it’s got a wonderfully welcoming atmosphere, and I feel rather lucky to live in the same county as a shop dedicated to sharing books.