The White Horse Bookshop
The White Horse Bookshop is a proudly independent bookshop in a renovated Tudor townhouse in Marlborough, Wiltshire. Not only do they sell thousands of specially selected books to customers old and new, they have an extensive art department and hold art workshops and exhibitions in The White Horse Gallery at the back of the shop.
Although their doors are closed to the public for the moment, the bookshop is very much open for business through their recently updated website. Wearing a smart new look for spring, it’s replete with recommendations, highlights and new books lists for customers’ online browsing pleasure. The booksellers are in full swing orchestrating click and collect and postal order services.
A trip to Wiltshire to browse this beautiful bookshop in person is high on our list of bookish destinations to visit when we can. In the meantime, it was a pleasure to speak to bookseller Angus to learn more about life at White Horse Books.
Please tell us about your bookshop. What makes it special?
The White Horse Bookshop has been at its present site since 1949 (having opened six years previously just down the road – who would open a bookshop during a world war?!). It’s situated on Marlborough High Street in a 400-year-old building, over three floors, including the recent addition of a gallery space to the rear of the building and a renovated art studio space for the art classes we hold throughout the year.
I’m not sure that it’s my place to say what makes us special but, if pushed, I would say that it’s the ambience of the place. As a bookshop we try to stock what our customers want, rather than pushing our own agenda, and are very active in our wish to make everyone feel welcome and to be a place of laughter, kindness and a little wickedness, when we can get away with it.
What inspired you to become a bookseller?
I was never inspired to become a bookseller (even though, when young, the two places I thought I’d like to work were a bookshop and a video store). Like most of us I fell into it, having moved to London as an actor but needing money! I started working six hours a week at Hammicks Bookshop in Hammersmith but soon went full-time and, when both the Manager and Assistant Manager left within weeks of each other, was asked to become Manager. More shops followed with Ottakars and Waterstones before leaving the corporate bookselling world and coming here. As it happens, I celebrated thirty years in the business only last month.
What are your all-time favourite reads and why?
I am not a great believer in favourites! I don’t really see the need for them, especially as such things tend to turn depending on a mood. But if pushed, I would say the following:
Moby Dick, Herman Melville
I think you can find an echo of this book in almost everything written since. If an alien species wanted to know what it is to be human, I would hand them this and tell them to read every last word.
The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas (all five books of the series)
Great stories, great characters and, most importantly, great sentiments. I try and live by the musketeer code, failing almost daily.
Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf
A novel of near perfection by a lesser-known American author, but a writer of utter brilliance. It is so delicate but confident; a work of pure alchemy.
Who would be your dream bookshop party guests?
Well, goodness me, where to start? First up would be:
Honoré de Balzac – tiny, rotund with the twinkliest eye and the sharpest of wit. My absolute favourite author.
Dorothy Parker – this isn’t going to be a dull party.
Peter Ustinov – the greatest raconteur.
Gore Vidal – no party works without gossip and Vidal was possibly the greatest gossip of them all.
Oscar Peterson – every party needs music. Mozart would be too demanding and Chopin might bring everyone down.
Who has been your favourite customer and what is your favourite bookshop anecdote?
You won’t catch me out that easily . . . No one favourite of course, but I do have an adage: you know that you are a good customer when we stop treating you with deference and respect!
My favourite anecdote is probably the time a customer asked a member of staff if we had anything by Ian McEwan. I stood behind said staff member as she typed into the computer Anything by Ian McEwan and replied ‘No, sorry, we don’t have that’. The perils of a literal mind.
What are your top picks for spring 2021?
Firstly, it has to be the new Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun. And Joan Didion’s Let Me Tell You What I Mean. Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Committed is going to be very big I feel – a book which is apparently very intellectual but also terrifically readable is usually a winner!
136 High Street
Wiltshire SN8 1HW
Tel.: 01672 512071
The White Horse Bookshop