Have you ever driven down past BJ’s and turned into the Barnes & Noble parking lot on the west side of I-35? The glass storefront emits a warm glow at night, beckoning you to the crisp paperbacks and luxurious notebooks nestled amongst the sounds of soft jazz and the smell of fresh coffee. Growing up, I saw more than my fair share of bookstores, independent and chain alike, lock their doors for the last time, and I assumed they were a dying breed. People still needed physical books, of course, but they did not need to select them from beautiful, carefully curated shelves. England proved me wrong.
I would struggle to count the number of bookshops I have visited in the past three months. Some, like Waterstones, WHSmith, and Blackwell’s are chains that pop up in major metropolitan areas and small university towns alike. Others are on their own, usually small and tightly packed, the floor-to-ceiling bookcases supervised by an owner or employee sipping tea in the corner. Books are respected, treasured, and proudly displayed. Stores that are blessed with a bit more space often squeeze in a coffee bar and a few accompanying tables. Any free wall space is filled with murals or artfully lettered quotations. People come in droves to browse, to linger, and to select their next read. The atmosphere is exquisite. The best part, however, is the books themselves.
I do not claim to be an expert on graphic design, but the book covers in England are the most beautiful ones I have ever seen. Both hardcovers and paperbacks are wrapped in designs conceptualized and executed with care usually reserved for special anniversary editions in the States. We are advised not to judge a book by its cover but when the cover is such an excellent reflection of the book itself, how can I resist?