“Hoare” sounds like “whore”.
There it is, out of my system.
Today, on the recommendation of a couple of friends, I decided to visit this popular bookshop on Front Street. Walking in feels just like how I imagine it would feel to walk into a book; the colours are richer than the drab street outside, the sounds of cars and voices is washed away by calmness and the fast-paced world of iPhones and Kindles falls away to reveal a world that really really loves books.
Nicholas Hoare has erected (okay, so the smutty jokes aren’t quite out of my system, perhaps) a monument to the comforting feel of a thick book in your hand. He has built a stronghold against the advances of “real life”; a castle for books. It’s silent inside except for the wincing of floorboards underfoot. The impeccably organised bookshelves stretch up to the ceiling, so that if you wanted to reach all the way up the alphabet to Auden or Arnold you would have to step up on the wooden ladders painted dark green with gold braces.
This is a shop that seems to be continually unfolding; long and narrow, it stretches back further than you expect at first, revealing couches and chairs, an old (sadly not functional) fireplace, an upper level that looks down on the rest of the shop as if from a balcony, a children’s section where books are arranged around turrets and, delightfully, a tree! No one seems to question the fact that there’s a tree in the middle of a downtown store and I’m sincerely glad they don’t, since its insistence that it belongs there made me feel like I had reached the top of Jack’s Beanstalk. I think that all fairy tale castles (on top of beanstalks or otherwise) should look like this. In fact, I think heaven should look like this.
The idea of Nicholas Hoare’s as a sanctuary for books is driven home by the selection of books that line the shelves. Naturally there are well-stocked fiction and poetry sections; it’s not the widest or most complete range I’ve ever seen but the books in the shop and particularly the ones on display are clever, beautiful books that have no doubt been chosen very deliberately. There is a wide selection of books about politics in Britain, America and Canada (assuming that the latter can be classified as such…don’t get me started) and books about economics (but only the interesting ones). There are also big, beautiful books about art, fashion, gardening, design and cookery which I loved flipping through. I was very excited to find a copy of a book called Treehouses of the World. About a year ago I came across another large book of pictures of treehouses called Exceptional Treehouses and ever since I have been obsessed with the idea of living in a little wooden house high up in an oak or sequoia with no internet, no TV and just walls and walls of books. Okay, maybe a TV. I also found a book called Books DO Furnish A Room (a little nod to Mr. Powell) which gave me even more ideas of how to decorate said treehouse. I decided that if it looks anything like the inside of this shop I’ll be happy.
And finally, I noticed an exceptionally high number of books about books. This may be because a bibliophile looks out for these books and seems to see them everywhere, but I think that perhaps whoever chose the shop’s selection is, like me, hoping to celebrate the importance and centrality of having books around us, whether it’s in libraries, in our homes or just kicking around in our brains making us associate any old tree with Jack and the Beanstalk. Two such books that I discovered in the shop today and which I promptly added to my reading list are The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel and Phantoms on the Bookshelves by Jacques Bonnet.
The only disclaimer I feel obliged to provide as I describe all these wonderful books is that they’re quite pricey. I started these bookshop adventures to prove that bookshops are just as good as Amazon etc. and in many cases even the prices are comparable. In this case they’re not, but I hold to my belief that the setting of a beautiful bookshop that forces you to find titles you never would have found otherwise and open your mind is still a better way of doing things.
As you can probably tell, I spent a very long time snooping around in this bookshop under the jealous eyes of the man at the till who seemed to be watching me the entire time, wondering why I had made six or seven laps around his precious printed empire.
The truth is, I needed to walk around madly in circles in order to fully appreciate the quirks of the shop itself, the geography of the long, thin space and, of course, the phantoms on its shelves.