On being invited to be a VIP book seller in Helikon Burgas

19/08/2010 by Christopher Buxton

What bookshops mean to me

I had a largely solitary childhood. My family moved too often for me to form many friendships and so I quickly gained a reputation as a voracious reader. From the age of seven, my mother would take me on her weekly shopping run to the city centre and leave me in a friendly bookshop. There I would pick a book, find some unobtrusive corner and read for the hour or two it took my mother to buy the weekly groceries. The bookseller was wise enough to recognize an addict in the making. He knew that I would save my pocket money to buy whatever took my fancy.

So my bedroom filled with books. Christmas and Birthdays, I expected book tokens.

As a child, I would often feed fears. Lying in bed at night, I would imagine a fire breaking out in the house. Panicky parents would be shouting to evacuate. Forget clothes and slippers! How many books could I take with me in my bare foot dash to the garden? I would imagine myself outside shivering in my pyjamas, holding desperately to my bundle of favourites, not letting them drop into the wet grass and looking up as the house burnt down, taking with it all the books that I had cruelly abandoned.

In my teenage years I discovered second hand bookshops – the kind housed in old sixteenth century buildings with a bell on the door frame, many rooms and rickety staircases. Through the light of tiny windows I would sit on the wooden floorboards and read and read books that had long been forgotten by mainstream readers. I developed eclectic eccentric tastes.

I love bookshops that incorporate darker corners and shelves filled with books where only the spine is visible. If a sales assistant asks me what I am looking for, I shrug happily and say I don’t know. The thrill is in finding something quite unexpected. Of course I understand that every bookshop must display its best sellers in full frontal display, but there should always be spaces for explorers like me.

I love the new design of Helikon in Burgas and Plovdiv. Past the display tables, the packed shelves and intimate spaces offer the thrill of a treasure hunt.