He looked in this book nearly every day, as though it were a mirror reflecting his own integrity.
- Chronicle of the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds, Jocelin of Brakelond (translated by Diana Greenway and Jane Sayers)
The knights there entring, did him reuerence dew
And wondred at his endlesse exercise,
Then as they gan his Librarie to vew,
And antique Registers for to auise,
There chaunced to the Princes hand to rize,
An auncient booke, hight Briton moniments,
That of this lands first conquest did deuize,
And old diuision into Regiments,
Till it reduced was to one mans gouernment.
- The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser
An empty book is like an Infant's Soul, in which anything may be written. It is capable of all things, but containeth nothing. I have a mind to fill this with profitable wonders.
- Centuries of Meditation, Thomas Traherne
To acquaint oneself with the literature of the world properly is an endless exercise that will never be completed, but which will cause the reader to develop and widen his or her cultural horizon. There is to me a particular pleasure to be found in the company of books, to explore the shelves with a keen and almost all-consuming eye and treasure the numerous manifestations of mankind's creativity. This bibliophilia is - as I touched upon in my previous blogpost - one of the reasons why I have a great fondness for the City of York: its many bookshops offer a wide variation of opportunities, ranging from the old to the current, from the scholarly to the banal and remind its visitors of the necessity to open up to new impressions. I spent much time rummaging around in the bookshops, not always searching but every time discovering, and I often found myself awestruck by the selections and pleased by that typical scent of books that triggers the memory and conjures up the ancient dream of the Library so many of us aim to compile. Since the exploration of bookshops was such an important part of my time in York I wish here to present an incomplete array of bookshops to be found there, together with some of the treasures I brought with me and included in my own collection.
Due to the nature of this blogpost I find it necessary to state that my purpose here is solely to show fellow bibliophiles one of the greatest attractions of York, presenting books and where they can be found to an audience who may be interested to know this. I have no arrangement with any of these bookshops or for that matter any commercial websites where these books may be purchased.
Most booksellers in York are independent and are thereby free to choose their own selections according to what they themselves want to purvey. My favourite bookshops are chiefly of this category, but I nonetheless want to begin this presentation with Waterstone's, a chain of bookshops represented in York by a spacious shop in High Ousegate. Their selection emphasises popular titles, but capering to all tastes and thereby including a large number of interesting titles. Since I have a tendency to hoard books in large quantities when visiting York, I decided to limit my exploration to the poetry section.
(...) I only know, I am,
I was a being created in the race
Of men disdaining bounds of place and time
- Sonnet, John Clare
York Book Clearance Outlet
The Book Cearance Outlet focuses on secondhand books and has an impressive selection in its two-storey building, although sadly lacking a poetry section. I visited this shop on my first visit to York in 2009 and came out again with at least two Everyman paperbacks: The complete plays of Christopher Marlow and Piers Plowman. I do not recall whether I also bought a selection of mystery plays and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight there, too, but I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case.
This is one of my all-time favourite bookshops, primarily due to its selection, but also because it has the perfect ambience, as if it were designed according to an orderly superstructure, yet allowing for personal exploration and serendipitious discovery. It is a two-storey enterprise run by a very genteel gentleman with the air of the bookvendor about him - slightly scruffy, but a pleasant converser - and the shop contains a vast number of books, filling every shelf and piled high on the floors. To my utter delight there is a significant poetry section, a great selection of older Penguin classics and some very pretty folio editions of classical children's stories in a room upstairs. It is not a spacious shop, but the space is used strategically and you will never be able to go back out the door thinking "I've seen enough."
Ah, there's nothing like the smell of old Penguins.
- Fellow student at the University of York
O friend unseen, unborn, unknown,
Student of our sweet English tongue,
Read out my words at night, alone:
I was a poet, I was young
- To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence, James Elroy Flecker
The above picture also features two other collections of poetry, belonging to Oxford series like the collections of Herrick and Thompson. The books in question are the poetical works of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Matthew Arnold, and these books were purchased at the Minstergate Bookshop.
Minstergate and the adjoining Stonegate were home to bookprinters in days past and there are still a few vestiges of that period, one of which is the above figurine of Pallas Athena reclining by a stack of books. Other remnants are the printer's devil and the sign of John Todd's bookshop of No. 35 Stonegate, as seen below.
Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?
- Psalm 56:8
In my book Minstergate bookshop ranks even above Fossgate books, presumably because I became acquainted with this little gem already at my first visit to York in 2009 and it left a lasting impression. The shop covers four storeys, but none of the rooms are very spacious and this creates a pleasant feel of intimacy, tricking you into believing the selection will be quickly perused. Once you start exploring, however, you will realise how labyrinthine the shop is, and even rooms you have searched through will appear excitingly new when you return to them.
The shop contains books both old and new, at reasonable prices and displayed outside when they're on sale. This latter feature was one of the reasons that I visited this bookshop far more often than my bank account was pleased with, the other reasons being proximity and an ever-increasing fondness for the place due to its selection - particularly its poetry and history sections - , its ambience and its friendly staff. I have bought more books here than at any other similar venue in York and I look forward to do so again. Next time I might also have the temerity to ask for a closer look at the beautiful first edition of The Wind in the Willows, priced at 1000 pounds.
Ken Spelman booksellers
Ken Spelman booksellers is one of the bookshops in York I have not yet sufficiently explored. The reasons for this is first of all that in York's bookshops are like its churches: numerous. Secondly, I very rarely crossed the river on my city excursions and therefore have not yet made any attachments to this locale. I became aware of this shop when I saw it represented at the York National Bookfair and I decided to render it a visit.
Adam scriveyn, if ever it thee bifalle
Boece or Troylus for to wryten newe,
Under thy long lokkes thou most have the scalle,
But after my makyng thow wryte more trewe;
So ofte adaye I mot thy werk renewe,
It to correcte and eke to rubbe and scrape,
And al is thorugh thy negligence and rape.
- Wordes unto Adam, His Own Scriveyn, Geoffrey Chaucer
As the above pictures show this is a very spacious bookshop, and I seem to recall coming across some books that only tremendous, monkish self-restraint kept me from buying. Next time, however, I will be prepared.
The bookshops presented above only comprise a minor selection of the numerous bookshops in York, but for visitors, students or soon-to-be residents these are good places to start, either to increase your book collections, to enjoy the atmosphere, to skim through books at leisure hoping to find something pleasantly surprising or all of the above. Happy hunting and may there be pages of discovery ahead.