Bookshops are important to writers. Towcester Bookshop was important to me. For five years it provided me with new and second-hand books, most of which I still have. It also provided a lot more.
Towcester Bookshop no longer exists. Its proprietors, Peter and Janet Gooding closed the shop a few years ago and retired to Wales. However, for a while, they and their shop became my lifeline to a world of poetry, drama, novels, short stories, essays, translations, screenplays, biographies and other types of non-fiction.
Initially I would go in, browse through the second-hand books, and usually find something interesting or challenging to read. Then I started chatting to Peter during the less busy times. Then, as my reading became more refined, I started ordering and buying new books. I followed my instincts, but I also quizzed Peter on various aspects of literature. He knew his stuff. He gave good advice and I bought some wonderful books.
I still have my first ever copies of Les Fleurs du Mal, Naked Lunch, Crash, The Bloody Chamber, The Fountainhead, A Clockwork Orange, A Rebours, Ice, Howl, On The Road, A Farewell to Arms, The Catcher in the Rye, Ulysses, The Cantos, The Waste Land, The Tempest, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Stranger In A Strange Land, Frankenstein, The Beckett Trilogy, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Betty Blue, The Birds, Tales of Mystery and Imagination, The Shining, Justine, The Ice Palace, The Singing Detective, Waiting For Godot, The Annotated Lolita, The Annotated Alice, The Chrysalids, Brave New World, The Name of the Rose, Gravity’s Rainbow, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Crime and Punishment, The Trial, The Cement Garden, The Magus, Crow, Amerika, Ariel, as well as the Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson, Arthur Rimbaud, Sylvia Plath, Petrarch, Shakespeare, Robert Lowell, Ezra Pound, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, Dylan Thomas, and Jeremy Reed.
Towcester Bookshop was a place where I defined my identity through my reading; reading which obviously informed and informs my writing. The books I read then – and sometimes re-read – are still very significant. The words of each of those books are etched into my psyche, and I try my best to reach the heights of those books in my own writing.
Every writer needs their own Towcester Bookshop – a place to develop a personal taste in writing, literature, or whatever, in order to define a personal writing style. Thanks to Peter and Janet, I had access to what seemed like my very own Towcester Bookshop for several years – and I consider myself very fortunate to have had that.
© R J Dent (2009)