When my mum asked me what I would like for my birthday recently, I answered without hesitation. Book tokens please. Sounding a little doubtful, she asked me if I was sure. I said that I was and so that’s what I got.
But having a book token to spend is far more complex than just getting a book. First of all it’s money that you have to spend on books. There is no alternative. You can’t cash it in and spend it on new school shoes. You have to buy books and so you can do it without even a modicum of guilt at your self indulgence.
Then you have to select what to buy. Too much of my book buying these days is limited to typing part of a title into Amazon and clicking on one stop shop. It’s practical, functional, cheap. But where’s the pleasure? To me, choosing a book is an indulgence to be savoured. I want to stand in a real book shop and scan the shelves until a title or a name or a colour leaps out at me. Then I pluck the tome carefully from its nestling place and flick it over to read the sales pitch on the back, placing it back gently if it doesn’t appeal and moving on.
We have a lovely little bookshop in Ilkley which carries plenty of fiction titles but lacks a serious range of non fiction books so the next part of my plan was a trip to Leeds. Usually when I head to the big city I have an list in my head of things that need to be achieved before I sprint back for the train in time for school. With book tokens in my purse, I planned a trip for nothing but books. I might even, I mused self indulgently, buy myself a cappucino at the Costa Coffee in Waterstones and peruse at my leisure.
And so yesterday was the day. I had no idea what I wanted to buy but I knew it would be non fiction. I have a hard enough time keeping up with fiction that I have to read for Book Club, my course and my pleasure without adding to it. No this was all about buying books that I would never buy for myself.
I skipped the ground floor entirely, even swerving the fabulous children’s department and headed upstairs. And there I spent a delicious hour or so floating from department to department looking at whatever caught my eye.
Some things I didn’t even look at. Sport – as if? Travel – makes me too envious. Cookery – way too many already. But ancient history held me for a while as did art and design and parenting. I spent a little while looking at Prof Cox and his new book before deciding that a book with a wider subject base would be of more use despite all the lovely pictures of him. Home crafts slowed my progress too, as I pored over handmade jewellery and knitting patterns.
In the end I choose these three. I’m not sure I could have carried any more. I paid and was delighted to learn that I still had not exhausted my gift card. And when I rang my mum to tell her what I’d bought and how much fun I’d had, I think she understood the reason for the request in the first place.