Established in 1963 David’s Bookshop is quite simply a wonder emporium, worth a peruse for that fact alone, even if you’re not particularly interested in books. One of the customers today told me it was the largest independent bookstore in the country outside London and Cambridge, which is quite an achievement for Letchworth when you think of it.
The interior of the shop seems to emit a wonderful soft golden glow, even on a sunny day like today and I swear I could feel the books on the walls positively hum with expectation as I entered the labyrinth of bookcases and tables all decked out with delectable reads. There is a pleasant assault on the nose too, a deliciously rich blend of newly pressed paper with overlays of ancient tome wafting from the 15,000 second-hand and antiquarian volumes scattered about the place, all cut through with just a hint of fresh-ground-coffee and spiced cakes emanating from the in-store coffee shop.
I was on the point of giving up on the mission for today and surrendering to the temptation to linger and loiter in this cavernous world of books when I noted that one of the fore-mentioned tables, near the door and backed by a shelf display of various globes of the world, was laid out with an array of our ‘Adventures in Yellow’ books… and so a jolt back to today’s business as we met with the good people of Letchworth.
Proposing your book to a complete stranger can be quite a challenge. First you have to stop the stranger and introduce yourself and the book. At this point you need to make an assessment if the person is really interested or not. If they are clearly in a hurry or look bored or disinterested then give up as it’s a waste of both your time and theirs. However if they show some willingness to continue then I offer a quick summary of the trip with some of the highlights, usually one or two of the more dramatic moments to pique their interest further and from there you can hopefully proceed to a new home for the books and a happy customer.The day began well when I bumped into an old acquaintance from work, who I’d not seen for over ten years and who was delighted by our news of the trip and the books. Another easy and straightforward transaction was with a young chap called Alistair from Biggleswade who had himself toured New Zealand on a 250cc machine and was eager to go further. We swapped a few tales from the saddle and I introduced him not only to the books but to Horizons Unlimited and as we parted I could easily see in him a prospective ‘Jupiter’s Traveller’ (see www.panamericanadventure.com/2011/10/ted-simon-the-foundation/).
Sometimes however, these encounters yield unusual responses such as the lady today who loved to read adventure-travel stories but was intrigued why on earth we ever set out to do such ‘crazy’ things in the first place? “Why put yourself in the path of robbing cops and all these lynch mobs? Why not just stay at home where it’s safer?” The timing of her questioning threw me a bit as she’d already bought both books.
It was clear that we both feared opposite things. Where she feared the unknown and imagined myriad of dangers of a life on the open road, I feared a groundhog stale and stagnant existence of a secure life commuting between a box with a bed in it and a workplace full of the same thing every day. Whilst we did come to encounter some of her anticipated dangers on our Pan-American journey for the most part they remained imaginary and our overall experience was life changing and beneficial in every way. As I said at the end of book 1: “If truth be known, the worst day on the road had proven, by several orders of magnitude, to be better than the best day at the office.”
On the way home I reflected that in many ways I have returned to that mundane existence of a working life yet it is now spiced with these weekend forays to market and sell our story. They allow our Pan-American journey to continue right here in England through these discourses on the two books.
At the end of today it was hard to prise ourselves away from David’s Bookshop. Outside the sun was gone and it had grown cold and dark. Inside the shop, that glowing amber light persisted, its strength now magnified by the darkness outside. All around, a comforting warmth beckoned from the books at bedtime. Maybe if I sat quietly in a corner nobody would notice as they closed up the shop. I’m sure there was some carrot cake left and it’d be easy to brew up some coffee so I wouldn’t starve. They could always let me out in the morning…
(A really massive thanks to manager Paul Wallace and all the staff who looked after us today. For more details of David’s check out www.davids-bookshops.co.uk)