A disused bus shelter in the market town of Sedbergh is a curious place for a quest to end, literary or otherwise. The town itself is rather curious too; geographically in Cumbria but on the wrong side of the M6 to be in the Lake District proper, it sits almost exactly on the watershed where the rolling green fells give way to the harsher limestone uplands of the Yorkshire Dales. Hard up against the Howgill Fells, it has always attracted walkers but in recent years it has also become a haven for readers. It now has seven bookshops, including an enormous second-hand one at the end of the High Street, and bookshelves are squeezed into any available space in the town’s other shops and cafés. When we arrived for cake and a potter while holidaying in Hawes, it was more in hope than expectation that here we would find the missing piece to complete the Scandinavian puzzle that our dining-room bookshelf had become.
Collecting books is a funny thing and not something I’d ever set out to do. I have multiple copies of The Wind in the Willows because it’s an enduring favourite which I happen to misplace periodically and firmly believe should be on everyone’s shelf, young or old. I have almost all of the Poldark novels by Winston Graham, but that’s because I wanted to read them, not acquire them. The same goes in our house for Jo Nesbo and Roddy Doyle. They’ve been collected because they’ve been read, not the other way around. Collecting books is the ultimate rejoinder to digital books, making the book itself a physical item to treasure as much as the words contained within. But books are not intended to be just placed on a shelf to be admired. Until they’re taken down and opened, they’re not really books at all.
Several years ago, my husband picked up a copy of a book called Roseanna, probably from an Oxfam bookshop. It was a detective story, in all senses of the phrase, set in 1960s Stockholm and featuring a Swedish po
The full version of this article is only available to subscribers to Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly. To continue reading, please sign in or take out a subscription to the quarterly magazine for yourself or as a gift for a fellow booklover. Both gift givers and gift recipients receive access to the full online archive of articles along with many other benefits, such as preferential prices for all books and goods in our online shop and offers from a number of like-minded organizations. Find out more on our subscriptions page.Subscribe now or Sign in