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 Book Shops > Michael Rayner Bookseller 1988 - 2005

Michael Rayner Bookseller 1988 - 2005

I first met Michael Rayner sometime in early 1988, while he was rifling my shelves, looking to boost the stock of his fledgling bookshop in St Luke's Road, Cheltenham. 'Oh God!', I remember thinking, 'Another prematurely retired teacher to swell the burgeoning ranks of the competition.' At the time they seemed to be everywhere.

When I got to know Mike a little better, he confided that he hadn't been able to quite believe his luck in being bribed out of education and then grant-assisted into bookselling - an occupation that entirely suited him. However, as a lifelong Labour supporter, the irony of being blessed by Thatcher wasn't lost on him.

His interest in secondhand books had started early in life; when as a teenager he bought the first of many old books about his beloved Norfolk Broads. As a teacher in Cheltenham, Alan Hancox had fed his growing appetite for better books, as well as encouraging him along a path that was to eventually lead to his own bookshop.

He became a knowledgeable and generous bookseller with a broad range of interests and a keen eye for a good book, which he was adept at acquiring, mostly from private calls. The shop always held the promise of something interesting and, more often than not, delivered it.

Over the years, Mike and his wife Maggie refined the art of living over, or rather behind the shop. The addition of a large and comfortable conservatory, linking the house to the shop, afforded a relaxed and convivial style of bookselling. Friends were greeted and customers became friends.

For me, the shop was a small oasis in the increasingly barren landscape of twenty-first century book hunting and I will sorely miss the refuge offered by Mike and Maggie. 'Doing' Cheltenham with my small grandson would have been much less enjoyable, if endurable, without it.

Mike hadn't felt well for some time and was diagnosed with terminal cancer just a few short months ago. A massive heart attack on October 1st, only a matter of weeks into chemotherapy, left his many friends shocked and deeply saddened by his sudden death. He was 72.

Mike Goodenough

From Jan Jackson

I have just found your appreciation of Michael Rayner, a fine bookseller and wonderful human being, and - not knowing of his illness - am saddened by the news of his death. Your piece colours the canvas of Michael's character very well, and I would like to express my sadness at his passing, and offer my support to his family at this difficult time.

I first met Michael back in the late eighties, when I became interested in secondhand books. At that time, there were a few shops around the Gloucester and Cheltenham area, but none with such a welcoming and appreciative host. Michael's shop became something of a home from home for me, and I would always find an excuse to make a slight detour over there while my partner busied herself on the High Street. Over time, we formed a loose friendship, based around our love of books and steam engines, and I have enjoyed many coffee's with Michael and the lovely Maggie in the relaxed surroundings of their kitchen. I always popped in when I was in the area, and could be assured of a warm welcome from a good friend, and considered it an honour to be able to offer him a footplate ride on the Gloucestershire & Warwickshire Railway, which we both enjoyed immensely.

After I took voluntary redundancy in 1996, and partly out of homage to his emporium, and partly to an itch I was having trouble scratching, I took the plunge and set up a bookshop of my own - Albion Books here in Plymouth, which ran for four years between 1997 and 2001. During the autumn of 1996, knowing of my intentions, Michael offered me all sorts of sound advice, and even provided some half a dozen boxes of shop stock free of charge. His shop was always a model of what a secondhand bookshop should be like, and I tried to flavour mine in the same way.

Michael resisted the Internet with a passion, seeing it - rightly in my opinion - as a dry place; a humourless, and empty place where knowledge and intuition are replaced by riding the wave of hype from the publishers, and a glance at comparative listings on abebooks. To me, as a customer, the joy of secondhand books is in the searching, and - for real booklovers interested in real books - Michael's shop in St Lukes was well worth the detour. I never came away empty-handed, and often left with something completely at odd's with what I was hunting. Michael had the instinct for a "good book", and this, coupled with his knowledge and intuition, made his shop a Mecca for book folk, His warmth, generosity, passion and humanity will be sorely missed.

I offer my sincerest condolences to Maggie and the Rayner family.

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