Sam Read Bookseller
Sam Read Bookseller is a small independent bookshop situated in the heart of the Lake District in Grasmere, Cumbria. William Wordsworth lived in Grasmere for many years and called it ‘the loveliest spot that man hath ever found’. The same can be said of the bookshop itself.
Alfred Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk passes through the village, and many ramblers visit the bookshop to browse local guides and histories, as well as the eclectic selection of fiction and non-fiction for adults and children alike. The team of booksellers are also happy to search for any out of print titles that readers might request.
We were delighted to learn more about life at Sam Read’s from bookshop owner Elaine Nelson and add to our reading lists thanks to recommendations from her fellow booksellers.
Please tell us about your bookshop. What makes it special?
I have owned Sam Read Bookseller since 2000. I am only the sixth owner in the 133-year history of the shop, Sam Read having started the business back in 1887 and for obvious reasons the name has stayed the same ever since.
The shop is special because it has been here so long – and because we are lucky enough to be in one of the most beautiful villages in Britain, with the fells around us and all the literary connections that abound, from Wordsworth and the Lake Poets to John Ruskin, Beatrix Potter, Arthur Ransome and Alfred Wainwright.
What inspired you to become a bookseller?
I had never thought about becoming a bookseller until my friend and predecessor Margaret Hughes retired and wanted to sell the shop to someone who would guarantee to continue the bookselling tradition. My only qualification was a love of books but I was ready for a change – my daughters didn’t need me at home as much any more so I took the plunge and learned on the job. I can honestly say it was one of the best decisions I have ever made! Twenty years on and I still love coming to work, meeting such lovely like-minded people and promoting a love of books and reading.
What are your all-time favourite reads and why?
If pressed, one of my favourites has to be Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong. I have a penchant for reading First and Second World War fiction and, as a French language graduate, I also like books with a French setting so this fulfils both criteria. I also love anything by Philip Pullman, particularly his Dark Materials and Secret Commonwealth trilogies, and Tolkien’s, Lord of the Rings. And both Robert Galbraith’s Strike and Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series. I could go on and on . . .
Who would be your dream bookshop party guests?
If I were to host a bookshop party, I think my ideal guests would be Sam Read, his daughter Helen (who ran the shop after her father until the 1950s) and my predecessor Margaret, so that we could have a good old chinwag about all the bookshop happenings over the years.
Who is your favourite customer and what is your favourite bookshop anecdote?
I have so many lovely, loyal bookshop customers that I couldn’t possibly choose one but, I must admit, I love it now when my three young granddaughters visit and I help them choose a book or two. The problem is I just want to give them everything!
One of my personal favourite bookshop anecdotes is the gentleman who picked up a signed copy of a local walking guide, looked across at me with genuine horror and said ‘Did you know, someone has written in the front of this?!’ Or the person who came in last year and asked: ‘Do you sell normal books?’
What are your top picks for spring 2020?
These are the books I am most looking forward to selling this spring:
– Grasmere: A History in 55½ Buildings, written collaboratively by Grasmere History Group
– The Wild Silence, Raynor Winn’s follow-up to the very successful The Salt Path
– The Making of Poetry, Adam Nicolson
– The Mirror and the Light, Hilary Mantel
– The Offing, Benjamin Myers
– Big Sky, Kate Atkinson
– Diary of a Somebody, Brian Bilston
– Confessions of Frannie Langton, Sara Collins
Gill: Motherwell, Deborah Orr
Told through the medium of mementoes found inside her mother’s beloved bureau when she came to clear it out, Deborah Orr’s memoir of growing up in 1960s Motherwell evokes a forgotten world of parental dominance and vanished social mores. Orr’s rebellion against her mother’s repressive love is related with unflinching candour and is completely unsentimental. I loved it for its account of dysfunctional family life, told with both dry wit and compassion. And I loved it because we know that despite the awful scenarios she encountered in her bid for freedom, and all the indictments of her parents, Orr came good and escaped the claustrophobia of small-town Scotland to make her own way in the world.
Kim: Here in the Real World, Sara Pennypacker
Not that I only read kids’ books but I’m currently reading Sara Pennypacker’s Here in the Real World. I liked the cover by Jon Klasson but I’m loving the story. The book tells of a boy who enjoys solitude. However, he finds friendship and new purpose by building a garden and castle in the ruins of a church on abandoned land. It’s set in Florida, so it’s keeping me warm while the fire struggles to light.
Will: A Bite of the Apple, Lennie Goodings
My academic background is in Canadian literature and publishing studies but in the past few years I’ve been prompted to read more underappreciated women’s literature from between the World Wars. Many of those books are now published with the familiar green spine of Virago (Rose Macaulay! Rosamond Lehmann! Sylvia Townsend Warner!). Lennie Goodings’s new memoir is a perfect collision of my two interests being written by a Canadian well-versed in the boom years of CanLit who moved to London to work for over forty years in feminist publishing. Detailed accounts of the labour, logistics, love and lists of an independent press cross with the hard-headed economics in a warmly told and fascinating book.