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 Book Shops > The Stairway to Heaven was Closed

The Stairway to Heaven was Closed

A few short weeks after my return from dampest Cornwall and I'm struggling with failing recall. I tell myself to make notes while away but I'm obviously deaf. Anyway, it was supposed to be a holiday, with only occasional forays in search of printed treasure ... Well, that was the plan but there's a limit to the amount of time one can spend purposefully striding into a gale, or enduring yet another deluge.

Inevitably, we were driven to take shelter in some of the endless charity shops that seem to have spawned in the streets of Cornwall's towns. They were teeming with people, and as a result I now have a new charity shop rule -- no more than five a day. Six, and there's a real risk of me biting someone.

Most of them appeared to be practicing some form of anti-retailing, perhaps just to spite Mary bloody Portas for her condescending bullying. The rails of clothes were so crammed together that once you've added the obligatory enormous fat women, wet dogs, and fractious children in gigantic pushchairs; there was hardly room to breathe, let alone look at what passed for books. Oh, I nearly forgot bulging backpacks -- invaluable for concussing anyone foolish enough to attempt browsing. It really was a dreadful experience ...rather like visiting some secondhand bookshops BUT FULL OF PEOPLE.

To be honest, there were some exceptions: Tanya's Courage and the Hypatia Trust bookroom in Penzance, and the Oxfam Bookshop in St Ives, but that's about it. So what about the other opportunities for old book buying in Cornwall? Well, they certainly aren't plentiful, but with perseverance it's still possible to find a treasure or two.

Redruth is without a secondhand bookshop since the Redruth Bookshop closed a year or two ago. The degree of loss this represents depends on one's appetite for largely unsalable titles tainted by damp; something the town as a whole seems to specialise in. The other purveyor of limp literature and other festering delights at the top of Fore Street has closed and the building is boarded up, but there is still the equally unsavoury Emporium at 33 Fore Street.

We were led by our noses to the secondhand books at the back of the Emporium, which had one of the rankest smelling accretions of theology I've ever encountered. We found a couple of unpriced trifles and presented them to the women at the desk, to be told that the absent owner would have to look them up on the internet.

Further up Fore Street, on the right is La Belle, a double fronted and rather posh looking Art Deco and retro shop -- needs must when you are in danger of drowning by simply staying out on the street, so we squelched our way in. It turned out that they also did general house clearances and had a small bookcase of older books and other 'vintage' titles dotted about. A pleasant environment to spend time in, and you might just find a book -- I did.

Elsewhere in town a 'vintage' shop with a parasol covered ceiling, and a sort of 'collectors' shop had some books and we bought a few. There was also a stall in the attractive covered market, but the picture below says it all. Oh, and of course, more charity shops than I could safely visit.

With the loss of Browsers Bookshop, Falmouth is a challenge for a dealer to find books in, as they all seem be either unsalable, or keenly priced. However, we managed to find a couple of bags full of useful shelf stock in Roadshow Antiques in the lower High Street. It's always worth a look, particularly now that they have expanded the shelving in the back room. Benford Books, also in High Street, has broadened his stock considerably since our last visit, and is now worth visiting even if you are not interested in their core subjects. Bookmark, the only other bookshop left in town seemed a little unloved and the books less interesting than I remember. There are also an absurdly large number of charity shops engulfing the town, most of whose thresholds I couldn't face crossing.

I'm pleased to say that Truro still manages to support two secondhand bookshops. Just Books in Pydar Mews continues to stock interesting and reasonably priced books for the reader and collector, and we managed to find an obscure cinema title. Bonython Bookshop in Kenwyn Street also has some interesting titles, but turnover seems rather slow and prices optimistically high. There is also Churchill Books and Antiques, upstairs in The Coinage Hall. The general books are reasonably priced, but I have to say that I find the stock of endless ageing biographies, travel and history, rather dull. However, the specialist stock of golfing and other sports books is said to be good by those who understand these things. Truro seems to be resisting the plague of charity shops, or perhaps I was so traumatised by then that my brain had stopped registering them.Penzance is saved by Newlyn Books, where Kelvin's idiosyncratic stock is always a pleasure to browse, particularly if books on the arts are your thing. An hour or so rummaging produced a bag full of purchases, including one of the most interesting books I found on the trip. Further down Chapel Street, the Hypatia Trust bookroom is also worth a look, but otherwise it's endless bloody ...

Sunday in St Ives, and after the delight of Barbara Hepworth's Garden and the disappointment of the Tate devoted to Alex Katz, we try to pay for lunch. We made a couple of purchases (including a pleasant surprise) in the Oxfam Bookshop, which is rather better than the norm. I'd been told that the guy who used to run Arcadia Books in Penzance had opened here, and (at least for the rest of the summer) he can be found at Stairway to Heaven, upstairs in the Sloop Craft Market. I can't comment on the heavenliness of his stock as the stairway was closed that Sunday, but he had an interesting, smallish, arty stock when he was in Penzance. Do ring before attempting to visit as, according to some other traders in the Market, 'Open Daily' should be taken with a pinch of salt.

We ended the day at Bosorne Books above the Cook Book in St Just, which remains a much better café-bookshop than one usually encounters in the UK, but on this occasion we left empty handed.

So, that's it. By the end of the trip we had bought rather more than I expected, including an interesting children's story featuring germs as characters, a 1930's book on exercises to improve women's sexual pleasure, and a mid-eighteenth century bound volume of magazines that will make a significant contribution to the costs of the trip. Perhaps I will write more about these trifles, if I can find the time.

Oh, and when we weren't sheltering in charity shops, Cornwall was as lovely as ever.

Mike Goodenough

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