When I was growing up, my dad and I had a tradition. On sunny Saturday mornings, we’d hop on our bikes and ride uptown to a little independent children’s bookshop called Mable’s Fables. Mable’s Fables (or”Mabe’s Fabes” as we called it) was royal blue and purple from the outside; dragon-coloured. Inside, the books were arranged by age, so loyal customers delighted in making their way around in a clockwise direction as they grew. Sadly, I grew up and eventually had to move on to ‘grown up’ bookshops. It was unfortunate.
But I was lucky enough to grow up there – with those books and those shelves – from a six-year-old holding a parent’s hand to a weird preteen sniffing the books when no one was looking. (I still do this.) I was lucky enough to experience the joy of book-hunting, of going in with no idea what you want and finding that hidden gem or that old favourite recalled from a foggy memory. Now I’m all grown up (ish) and passionate about books, reading and bookshops.
In the age of Kindle, Amazon and big-box bookshops, places like bookshops are a bit of a rare species. That said, they’re not quite as rare as the soothsayers would have you believe; in cities all over the world people are finding new and inventive ways of keeping bookselling alive and independent businesses, while struggling sometimes, are staying alive and inspiring a new generation of readers. Nevertheless, I worry a bit about where people like me, who love paper and pages and conversations about books, will fit in the new world order.
Whenever I express this, I get accused of being a Luddite. (Of course “Luddite”, although it has now come to mean one who fears and resents progress, originally referred to a movement that developed during the first Industrial Revolution in the factory towns of Northern England where workers feared that new technology would threaten their livelihoods. The first Luddites weren’t anti-progress; they were just pro-humans. So I don’t mind the comparison too much.)
But I’m not here to complain and moan about what we’ve lost and what technology has taken from us. Instead, I’ve chosen to start the Matilda Project. After years of explaining why I’ve boycotted Amazon and sounding like a broken record when I respond to the argument “It’s cheaper!” with, “NO! You’re just lazy!”, I’ve decided to take positive action. The Matilda Project is all about scouring the world for the little independent bookshops that smell of paper and sell you not just a book, but a little piece of human history.
The goal is to shine a spotlight on heroic booksellers, charming bookshops, world-expanding books and life-changing conversations. Great to have you along for the ride. Now hush. I’m reading.