Bookshops are dangerous things. You pop in for a quick browse and emerge blinking an hour later clutching a bag of promise in your sweaty palms.
While the internet has made finding and buying new books so utterly easy and convenient, there’s something really satisfying about hunting through the shelves, considering the jackets and reading the blurbs to see which story might be the one.
Award-winning poet and short story writer Jen Campbell loves bookshops too. So much so that she wrote the bestselling Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops series (which started as a blog when she worked in a one herself) and The Bookshop Book, a non-fiction work featuring more than 300 weirdly wonderful bookshops from six continents.
Jen says: “When I was researching The Bookshop Book, I came across many travelling bookshops. Bookshops, actually, always used to be travelling ones: one person would strap some books to their back and, off they went, walking from town to town.
“These days you’re less likely to come across a travelling bookseller, so it’s even more exciting when you do. You’ll not find a bookshop on a dragon, sadly, which is why I decided to write about that in Franklin’s Flying Bookshop, so at least we could imagine it.
“It’s a tale about a book-loving dragon who wants to share stories with as many people as he can; only problem is that the local villagers are terrified of him! Enter Luna, a young girl who’s read all about dragons and so isn’t scared. Together, the two of them come up with a plan to open a bookshop – a flying bookshop, that is, right on Franklin’s back.”
Inspired by Franklin’s story, we asked Jen to share her favourite five travelling bookshops and libraries…
“Numa Books occasionally do pop-up bookshops, which are works of art. NumaBookCat was one of these pop ups – a cat made of out books. Customers could come along and look at the books and place an order to buy them. Books were then shipped to them once the bookshop closed.”
The Book Barge, UK and France
“Sarah Henshaw runs The Book Barge with her husband and their pet rabbit Napoleon Bunnyparte. You used to be able to find them moored in the Midlands but, recently, they decided to sale the barge across the Channel (yes, really!) and now you can find them in France. As well as travelling the French canals, Sarah designs and sells small libraries.”
The Weapon of Mass Instruction, Argentina
“Inside a converted Ford that looks like a tank, the Weapon of Mass Instruction is a bookshop travelling around Buenos Aires. Its owner hopes that the juxtaposition of a tank and literature will help highlight the power of words and the importance of freedom of speech.”
The Biblioburro, Columbia
“A library on the back of two donkeys, Alfa and Beto. Owner Luis takes these bookish donkeys around the local communities trying to inspire a love of reading.”
The Ketabraneh, Iran
“The Ketabraneh is a bookshop… in a taxi! It’s run by husband and wife Mehdi Yazdany and Sarvanez Heraner and you can find them driving around the busy city of Tehran, Iran.
“Mehdi drives the taxi, and his wife sits in the back. When they pick up a customer, they drive them to their destination while chatting about books. Sarvanez recommends authors, and tells them about her favourite titles, which are tucked into the windows, seats and boot of their car.
“There’s no pressure to buy anything, but if customers want to they have more than 40 books in the taxi to choose from, as well as material from the United Nations promoting human rights (in fact the UN gave them an international peace award). Sarvanez says that she especially loves promoting political and dystopian literature such as Orwell’s Animal Farm, as she’s acutely aware of the dangers of oppressive regimes.
“The couple, who are well-loved by locals and met in a bookshop, believe that books and stories are the best way to promote freedom and spread hope to the people they meet.”
You can find Jen talking about books at youtube.com/jenvcampbell