About

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.

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166 responses to “About

  1. How lovely, and how much I relate to this wonder-filled column. I discovered an old, forgotten library in my high school, and read all the books there till only Latin, Russian and Greek books were left! Taught myself Latin and kept reading, but the Russian and Greek alphabets did me in. When I go into some indie bookstores now, the memory of that library of first edition, rare books (I only knew that part later) comes back to mind.

    Hooray for you for doing this, Emily!! Long may you roam, and I look forward to hearing about your travels. Our paths may cross, as I hope to visit every independent bookstore that is carrying my book, A Good Home. I’m starting with the Greater Toronto Area.

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  2. Pingback: the Infinite Monkey speaks: on book sniffing | steadily skipping stones

  3. I couldn’t agree more with your post! Sitting in a comfortable spot and curling up with a good book is the only way to truly escape from the hectic pace of everyday life. It’s the only way to truly take your mind on a vacation! For me, it’s Steinbeck all the way. We just a found a 1929 copy of Cup of Gold. There’s something about holding that book in my hands, knowing that this was Steinbeck’s first novel, and that this book was actually issued in the year it was first published. What can I say, I’m a nerd 🙂
    And thanks for your “like” on our classic literature post!

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  4. While I do have an iPad and multiple electronic book readers on it, I love the feel and smell of books. I can’t imagine a world without physical books present. When I was young, I loved libraries and bookstores and I still do. Still, I think that technology preserves the written word for the future, and as someone who reads multiple books at once I love that I can have many of them with me at all time.

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    • I see what you’re saying, but does it really do a better job of preserving the written word than real books? The thing that makes physical books perfect for housing information is their sheer durability and their timelessness. I have a document on a floppy disk from 1995 that I can’t even access, let alone use or reproduce but I would have absolutely no trouble reading a book from 600 years ago, so long as it’s in decent shape. I have a feeling that ereading is just the fad and the real written word is eternal. Except that maybe it’s less of a feeling and more of a desperate wish!

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  5. I’ve never been to London and don’t know anything about that city, but I can relate to your philosophy and love of book stores. I’m looking forward to reading more of your adventures.

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  6. This is such an amazing project! I found your site because you ‘liked’ a post I wrote for StAnza a few weeks back about representing Scotland at the World Series of Slam Poetry 🙂 As a lifetime lover of bookstores, I’m so glad to have found The Matilda Project. I’m currently working for an independent children’s book publisher based in Boston, U.S.A and Oxford, England, and we don’t sell through Amazon at all! So glad you’re spreading the joy of indie bookshops. xx Carly

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  7. What a fabulous adventure. I hope to visit these shops someday. Thank you

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  8. You’re awesome. What we need is about fifty million other people like you.

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  9. Amazing blog and awesome project. If your travels ever take you to Mexico or Slovakia, please do incorporate them into the Matilda project.

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    • Thanks very much, and the same right back to you! I have been to Mexico, but it was many years ago, and I’m now struggling to remember why I ever left…as for Slovakia, that’s a bit closer to where I am at the moment, so I can assure you that if I ever make it there (or anywhere nearby!) I’ll write an entry on the first bookshop I find!

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  10. Pingback: Cool Blog No.1 – The Matilda Project | Bookstops

  11. Hello, Emily. We’ve just created a new section at Bookstops about cool blogs. And we chose the Matilda Project as our very first one. Please come and read it if you want to.
    Thanks.

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  12. Speaking as someone who can still picture his high-school era bookshelf, with all of the SF paperbacks I culled from the local book exchange, and who had to leave it all behind when moving countries, I can sympathise – BUT now I can access my Kindle versions anytime I like.
    Of course, I do still have 8 metres of SF, in a custom-built bookcase encircling the top of my entrance hall…B-)

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  13. “The goal is to prove to this sad generation of button-clickers that the ease of the internet is no match for the adventure and joy of a good old-fashioned human-run, paper-book-selling bookshop.”

    I’d find this blog really interesting, if I weren’t a little worried about the anti-ebook sentiments suggested by your attitude here… Ebooks make books accessible to more people. It’s not about laziness and convenience, there are many reasons to use Amazon and/or ebooks; large print books are harder to find in brick-and-mortar shops, you can set the font on a Kobo to one of the fonts designed for dyslexia (and for that matter, on all the ereaders I’ve ever seen, resize the font), having an ereader can open you to a world of free books e.g. from Project Gutenberg (since an ereader isn’t that expensive now: I got my Kobo for £25, that can actually be very cost effective), … There are advantages and disadvantages to both, and it isn’t some clear-cut moral choice. Do you acknowledge that? Or do you often make comments like this?

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    • You say ‘anti-ebook’ like it’s a bad thing! I am most certainly anti-ebook and my comments reflect that on my blog and in the arguments I have with people on a regular basis.

      Personally, I am anti-ebooks because I’m pro-bookshops, pro-booksellers and pro-human interaction. I would love it if bookshops and online retailers could co-exist peacefully so that we could all enjoy the benefits of both, but so far all the evidence suggests that giants like Amazon have no interest in playing fairly. They’re after a monopoly which is rapidly pushing bookshops off the high street, to the detriment of our towns and cities as well as all of our reading habits.
      Now, I do applaud you for a having a Kobo rather than a Kindle. I respect that because it suggests that you really are concerned with the good that digital copies of books can do and don’t play into the foolish cultural craze for having the brand name. I completely take your points about the feature which allows you to change font size as well as the fact that reading becomes more accessible if you can do it online. It’s hard to argue against that because I would love it if people who are dyslexic or visually impaired could have the benefits of new technology without threatening old technology. But let’s be honest – that’s not why the vast majority are buying ereaders. The people I see every morning on the tube alternating between reading and playing Angry birds on their Kindles have not bought the devices because of features like font size. I suspect it’s because it’s more convenient and they’re too apathetic to think about the business they’re taking away from small independents.
      Small independents who, by the way, are just as capable of making literature accessible as any website. They employ booksellers who have the human intelligence to make thoughtful and insightful suggestions that have certainly helped me broaden my horizons and often sell classics cheaply. At second hand bookshops or even at new bookshops that stock Wordsworth Classics, you can buy Jane Eyre, Tristram Shandy, Great Expectations and all the others that Project Gutenburg has for £2. That’s half the money that some people spend on a coffee from Starbucks. It’s a depressing day when people value that coffee more than a book. Furthermore, free books have been available from public libraries for decades. If free books are really so important to ebook users, they ought to remember that libraries are still open and operating – until e-readers push them out, anyway.

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      • For me, it is a bad thing. I am also pro-bookshops, pro-booksellers and pro-human interaction. I’m just pro-ebooks as well. I’m pro-booksellers like Weightless Books; having an ereader doesn’t stop me supporting brick-and-mortar shops (I buy in both formats! and currently I have the full amount I’m allowed out of both libraries I’m a member of! and I’m a volunteer librarian! it really isn’t some clear-cut one or the other issue); and I’m an eye clinic volunteer.

        So often the first fear people express to me in the clinic is the fear of losing books. And then I can go to the office, get out my Kobo, go back and show them how I can increase the font size, how light and easy it is to hold (compared to the clunky and expensive assistive devices that we have available otherwise), how many books I have on it… The fear and then the hope hurt me every time. And then I can sit and help them wait for their appointment by talking to them about books. What books are they going to get, what will they read first now they can read again, do they have any recommendations for me? Instead of them waiting silently for an appointment that most often gives them bad news, for procedures that most often make it worse before they make it better, I can touch their lives and make them better because I have an ereader.

        More personally yet, ebooks mean my mother and I can still read the same books, talk about the same books. Large print books can be hard to find and expensive, and often the books she wants aren’t even printed with a large print edition. Is it honestly better to you for her to go without books for the rest of her life (she was, by the way, forty-five at diagnosis, I believe) than to risk some degree of change to books and bookselling? It doesn’t seem like the contents are what’s important to you, if that’s the case. It sounds like you’re glamourising the packaging — which believe me, I understand, I have hundreds and hundreds of physical copies of books and I love them.

        But it really isn’t some dichotomy. Like, I’m going to visit my partner on Monday for two weeks. I’m in Wales, she’s in Belgium. I’m taking my ereader, for sure — but we’ll also go to the English language bookshops we know of in Brussels, I’ll haunt her local library while she’s at work, she’ll come home one day to find that I’ve ferreted out some treasure for her from the depths of the second-hand shop that I now demand she read…

        I know these are all personal examples, and emotional ones at that, but I’m just trying to demonstrate to you what it’s actually like, rather than what people often think it’d be like. I don’t know anyone who buys ebooks exclusively, even from the clinic. The library loans out ebooks (not my library, admittedly, we’re too small and underfunded; we rely on donations), my local indie has a deal to sell ebooks, we have access to an astonishing number of books which are out of print and which you’ll never find for £2 in the local brick-and-mortar shop (I would suspect that the majority of books on PG are not actually available in print).

        There are still problems with ebooks and ereaders — DRM, planned obsolescence, rigged pricing, quality control, changing formats, Amazon’s attempt to gain a monopoly — but I believe they will be sorted out or circumvented by users.

        Which is the long way of saying, sorry, I don’t think I can follow this blog if those are your frequently expressed sentiments. But if you need recommendations for bookshops in Cardiff or Brussels, let me know.

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      • Well, that escalated quickly! One minute we’re debating and the next I’m a heartless ogre who wants to deny your mother the joy of reading for the rest of her life!
        I think you missed my earlier point – as I said, in theory, I would have no problem with a world where ebooks and real books co-exist peacefully, so that people who need them can have ebooks without that threatening the existence of real books. That is the kind of situation you seem to have created for yourself. It sounds like your book-buying practices are varied and balanced and that’s a good thing. If everyone who had an ebook also a conscience reminding them to support other outlets, we probably wouldn’t be seeing record numbers of local independent bookshops closing.
        I also support and applaud your evident passion for making sure that everyone has access to the written word. Do you really think any decent person would have a problem with that? Come on. Your stories are great examples of the good that ebooks can do.

        However, even you have to admit that the kind of situations you’re describing represent a tiny minority of people who are buying ebooks/readers. The majority aren’t buying both kinds of book; they’re just buying the digital kind. They don’t realise that by buying ebooks instead of regular books they’re contributing to taking books of the high street, which, of course, makes books less accessible.
        My blog is not about whinging or moaning; it’s about celebrating bookselling and the bookshops that do still survive and rallying people to do all they can to protect them. However, I am afraid that I do see the book industry at the moment as Amazon vs Everyone Else. Maybe that’s melodrama on my part, and there’s certainly an element of unrepentant Luddite-ness involved. I can’t help it; I love bookshops and I think they’re in trouble.
        I’m not asking for you to follow my blog; it started as a way for me to let out my thoughts and I’ve never spent a second caring about who follows me. If you want to join in the fun of it great, but if you are going to get irritated and angry at every post, by all means, follow someone else.

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  14. I didn’t mean to make it sound quite like that! I just come across a lot of people who really do think it would be better for ebooks not to exist at all, rather than advocating balance and responsibility, even at the cost of the people who need them. I can understand the concern about bookshops and libraries — I feel it too — but the ebooks-are-bad-bookshops-are-good dichotomy hurts me personally, which is why I steer clear of it. I was interested in your blog after your post on Tropismes (will be visiting there in the next week! ever been to Sterling Books in Brussels? I love them) but my question about whether those sentiments come up often was genuine. It’s an issue that is desperately important to me because I know how much it hurts people.

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    • First of all, Tropismes is amazing, and I’m glad you found the post.
      To answer your question, as with all things, I try to keep the moaning to a minimum, by celebrating the good rather than wallowing in the negatives. But if I’m honest, the anti-ebook sentiment finds its way in. What you have to understand is that as hurtful as it may be when people are insensitive to the reasons someone might use an ereader (which, by the way, is something I’ll try very hard not to do from now on thanks to you!) it is also hurtful to see people abandoning traditional sources in favour of the craze of the moment. It’s been a dream of mine for years to own my own bookshop one day (‘when I grow up…’) and every time I see someone with their Kindle it seems like they’re pushing that dream further away from me. Sometimes, I’m afraid, that resentment finds its way into the blog.

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  15. Emily:
    There will always be bookshops, fear not. eBooks are very good for certain things–if you’re a professional who needs lots of textbooks and particularly if you travel a lot, a reader can be great. But you can’t cozy up in front of a fire with a plastic pad. And you can’t gift-wrap a beautiful hardback book with a ribbon and bow. Getting an activation code for your favorite book isn’t as cool a present as the book itself, and you have nothing to put under the tree. What will we put on our coffee tables to impress the neighbors? And picture books in e-format? Big glossy color books that weigh twenty pounds and are 15″x12″? Art books? History books? Music and theater books? Picture books full of cute kittens and puppies? How do you fit that on a little tablet?

    In the coffeeshop I can leave my book on my seat when I got to the bathroom and unless it’s a first edition signed by Hemingway himself I won’t be nervous if someone steals it. I wouldn’t do that with a nice shiny Apple tablet. I don’t have to worry about batteries, or where to plug my “book” in, and I’m sure they’ll soon be pushing ads on us we’ll have to watch before we can pick up the book where we left off. We may even someday have to log in every time we pick the reader up to “prove” we’re the owner, ostensibly to prevent theft but really as an excuse to make us watch some ads first. They can change the content of what we download and stream, and in limited respects this has already happened. Once a book is printed it’s mine and no one can censor it or “rethink” it or make me view a pop-up before I can read.

    I think people are starting to realize this. I live in the Silicon Valley area, and a few years ago everyone but me had the cool new readers. Now almost everyone around me has a book or magazine again. That includes many who bought the ereaders. I ask them what happened to their gadgets and they say they still have them but they don’t use them as much as they used to, or they just use them when the travel, or they use them for work, but for relaxation they like real books and magazines. Makes sense to me.

    I blogged about this whole phenomenon recently, if you’re interested: http://entertainingwelseyshaw.com/2013/07/26/the-day-the-kindle-got-fired/. As I said then, I don’t think bookstores are doomed, though they will, as they have been, become less ubiquitous, especially where I am, the USA, where sadly aside from how-to-get-ahead bestsellers and tie-ins to movies, not that many people read, as far as “educated” countries go.

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    • I agree; we’re definitely seeing a backlash as people realise that they don’t want to stare at a screen all day at work and then come home to stare at another one! I’m hoping that will continue and translate into people returning to their bookshops for more than the commercial texts (which hardly count as proper books!) that you mention. Thanks, as ever, for sharing your thoughts, John.

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  16. I meant to add that you yourself self said you hated to see people abandoning books for the craze of the moment, and that’s what ereaders are. They won’t “go away,” but they won’t eliminate books either, and there are plenty of areas of book publishing they’ll never impact. They will be a boon for others, however, but we’ll just have to live with that. But ereaders won’t replace books any more than recordings replaced live music or frozen dinners replaced eating in fine restaurants.

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  17. I also think bookshops will survive. I do have a Kindle, but I keep that for work-related reading. The books WANT to read, I buy [including a lot of pre-loved]. I worked as a journalist when websites first became a possibility for newspapers and magazines: the big publishers still haven’t worked out how to make it work online. Books will survive, as newspapers and magazines have. It’s just another ‘route to market’. Thanks for finding and liking my blog. I look forward to exploring yours more too. SD

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  18. A blog about bookshops! Can’t believe it! Will be spending quite a bit of time here… thank you 🙂

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  19. Oh, I just LOVE your blog!!!!!

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  20. Hi, Glad you liked our post. If you love reading (as you so obviously do) then please visit our Reading page:
    http://cabraseniorlibrary.wordpress.com/reading-writing/

    Cheers

    STB

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  21. One of our parents’ eye-sight is declining fast. He has had operations. He can no longer read the paper, do the crossword – or read ‘normal’ books. So to him, reading online/on a device is brilliant. He has always had thousands of books, after all, it was the age in which he grew up in. They have their place.

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  22. Hey! Love your blog. I just wanted to let you know that I nominated you for a blogging award. It’s just a blogger-to-blogger badge. http://sittinginthestacks.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/rewards-of-blogging-the-liebster-award/

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  23. Hemingways of Hermanus

    How we, new to social media, love your blog. Whenever you are in South Africa feel Welcome in the ‘most unusual and quirky bookshop’ 😉

    Warm Greetings
    Noel & Beth

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  24. Ashley @ Sitting In The Stacks

    Hey Emily! I just wanted to let you know that I suggested people follow your blog today for #FollowFriday.

    https://twitter.com/SittinginStacks

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  25. So I found your bog just now and I ask myself “where have I been the past two years???”
    Follower from now on 🙂

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