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 Book Shops > Book Hunting in Corwall

Book Hunting in Corwall

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my job is the ability to combine business with pleasure, and what could be more pleasurable than book hunting in Cornwall. Remote moors, golden beaches, dramatic cliff-top walks; scenically Cornwall has it all, but does it have any books?

Sadly on this occasion the answer was - not for us. Partly this was due to the continuing decline in the number of shops. Two more have closed since our last visit and another, 'Recollections Bookshop' in St Agnes, is due to close in September.

I will particularly miss 'The Book Gallery' in St Ives for their books on twentieth century British artists; a perfect adjunct to the Tate. I probably wouldn't have been able to treat myself to anything more than a modest catalogue but would have been able to browse titles rarely encountered in a provincial bookshop. The owners of all three closed shops say that they will continue to trade on the internet.

And the Internet is the other reason we found it hard to buy this year. As long as dealers happily add to the mountain of unsold stock on the net rather than take a quick profit from a visiting specialist, this problem will persist.

Even more difficult than internet listing, is internet pricing. Many titles which we would buy in quantity and sell quickly at a modest profit, now litter bookshop shelves. We see many "old friends" as we travel the country.

In a shop, where on our last visit we had bought most of their better cinema titles, I noticed two previously rejected books that we no longer had in stock. One was more desirable than the other, but both were priced at £25.00. I asked if, as they had remained unsold for a year, I could have more than 10% discount if I bought both, but was told in no uncertain terms that 10% was the maximum discount allowed. Needless to say, I only bought the better one. This is a business model I simply don't understand.

Anyway, enough of this whining. The ability to squeeze a profit from one's purchases is not my primary criteria for evaluating a secondhand bookshop. It's the quality and interest of the stock or the rate of turnover by which a shop should be judged. So how do Cornwall's remaining shops shape up?

'Penzance Rare Books' probably has the most consistently interesting stock and, as you're in town, it's worth visiting New Street Books. Instead of mourning the loss the St Ives shop, you could check out the secondhand book room at the 'Hayle Bookshop' - you never know.

'The Redruth Bookshop' is big on being big, but the stock puts one in mind of the saying that the books would have been better left as trees. The other bookshop in Redruth is big on Cornish history, in fact that's all they do.

Falmouth has four shops and if messing about in boats or Cornwall's industrial past is your thing, there seem to be lots of books. However, be warned. In one shop the assistant phoned the owner about an unpriced book and I had to wait while it was looked up on the internet. The Helston Bookshop is only a half-hour drive away and is always worth a look.

Truro is reduced to two shops, both of which have fairly recently changed hands. 'Bonython Bookshop' had some reasonably priced art and photography books and they both have lots and lots of...Cornish industrial history.

Bookends of Fowey changed hands in July, so it's too early to know if this is a good thing. We didn't get to visit Bosco Books in Looe this time, but we regularly buy realistically priced books from them via the internet.

Ye Olde Bookshop (really, I wouldn't make it up) in Liskeard might last another year but the owner is talking about selling up and moving to deepest Scotland. The town's new bookshop also has a few secondhand books.

And so to Launceston; but not in our case, as the remaining bookshop only opens on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

That's it. The weather was fab, sea enticing, cliffs breathtaking, butterflies electrifying, books - well maybe next time.

Mike Goodenough 28.08.03

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