Monday, 16 August 2010

A bookshop worth visiting...

Topping and Company in Ely

Last week Megan and I spent a couple of days in Ely. It was wet. Very wet. But that just gave us more time to explore Ely Cathedral. And having heard many good things about Topping's bookshop over the years, I was eager to pay it a visit.

I came away a very impressed customer.

* please note that this photo is of Topping's in Bath rather than Ely
When I look to buy a book the number one thing I look for in a bookselling emporium is range. Toppings has range. Shelves stacked from floor to ceiling (the top shelf too high for me to reach) with books, very few of them duplicate copies. There were sizeable selections of notable authors from Beryl Bainbridge to Dostoyevsky; even a complete collection of books by Joseph O'Neill that I've never seen in a bookshop before. And faced with my test of a good bookshop - whether they have a copy of The Quincunx by Charles Palliser - they came through with shining colours. Many of the books were even wrapped in plastic covers, further creating an impression that one was shopping either at a very classy establishment or that this was, in fact, a library. That's the way a bookshop should be.

More pleasingly still, arbitrary distinctions between classics and fiction were ignored in favour of one long inclusive section. Perfect. And while browsing the shelves I had the feeling that there were real bibliophiles working there, and that they were serious about their jobs. There was a wonderful pin board with articles and reviews of recent books, a prominent table stacked with enticing new hardbacks including all of the Booker Prize longlist, and recommendations spread all around the shop. I wanted to stop and sit for hours reading books. And I felt that I could have done so without anyone seeking to move me on. The atmosphere was literary but not too academic or elitist; passionate and engaged but accessible at the same time.

I find it hard not to have a good time in a bookshop, but my half an hour in Toppings was well above average. It's a quality bookstore that I'd recommend everyone to visit if they are ever in Ely.


farmlanebooks said...

You've sold me! If I'm ever near Ely then I'll ensure I pop in!

pupski said...

I agree Toppings is one of the best bookshops I have been in in East Anglia and it has an excellent and wide-ranging poetry section too!

Thomas at My Porch said...

Ely Cathedral is one of my favorite English cathedrals. Looks and feels so different from most of the others. It is a good thing I didn't know about Toppings back in 1992 when I was in Ely. As a poor student-traveller I wouldn't have been able to afford anything.

Sam Ruddock said...

Beautiful cathedral, Thomas. We spent a whole day there exploring nooks and crannies and climbing the amazing Octagon Tower. Such a priviledge to be able to open flaps and get a sense of how such a huge building was built, and is still held up.

Think Toppings has only been going about 10 years (he used to be a Waterstone's Bookseller) so you will have been safe back in 1992!

Less safe now, though!

It did seem a good poetry section Julia. But I still need this poetry book club to force me to learn more about poetry so that I can properly appreciate it.