Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Stroud, Gloucestershire

R & R

The Cross in Stroud is a road junction at the top end of the High Street that many people must miss. A paved area at the uppermost point of the High Street cuts it off visually, whereas in years gone by traffic must have come up the now pedestrianised street and made its way on and up to Bisley one way or Chalford the other. Now the main landmark here is the old Coop building of 1931, a neat Art Deco design by William Leah with rather pleasantly angular lines, a central clock and a cross-motif in the balustrade that’s repeated in the glazing pattern of the upper parts of the shop windows. With its raised central portion it makes an attractive corner building.

It must have been a sizeable store, but the Coop is long gone and the building now houses several shops: a launderette, a café, a Chinese take-away…and a secondhand bookshop, R & R Books, which I usually visit when I’m in Stroud. I have posted before about the joys of bookshops, specifically Old Hall Books in Brackley and Richard Booth’s in Hay. R & R is another favourite, this time a shop stocking exclusively secondhand books, and one from which I always seem to come away with at least one purchase.

I have spent many enjoyable hours in secondhand bookshops. There are fewer of them around than there used to be, because so many secondhand booksellers now trade online, leaving the high streets to charity bookshops run by the likes of Oxfam. Online buying makes a lot of sense in some ways – you can search for what you want, and find it without leaving your house – and the internet gives you access to millions of books offered by a world of booksellers. In spite of this choice, I think the demise of high street secondhand bookshops is a shame, because there is a great deal to be said for browsing and buying real used books in a real shop.

There are various reasons for this. For book collectors, it helps to be able to see the exact condition of the copy on sale – there are many things you can see that even a thorough bookseller’s description (or even a photograph) can reveal. There is also the pleasure of dealing face to face with the bookseller: you can ask them questions, learn things, talk with people who often have the same interests as you. But more than all this, there is the benefit of serendipity, of accidental discoveries. In bricks and mortar bookshops I have discovered titles I didn’t know existed, shedding new light on subjects I’m interested in, or opening up entire subjects, such as psychogeography or the design of petrol pumps, or the history of plotland developments. I’d call such discoveries educational and life-enhancing.

R & R Books in Stroud is not a large bookshop, but it has an interesting stock that turns over, and a helpful owner. In it I’ve found over the years books I’d not come across before on such subjects as Art Nouveau, graphic design, and the architecture of Liverpool. I’ve also found quite a few old guidebooks (always interesting to me) and books I wouldn’t have bought without looking closely at them first, such as an early edition of J M Richards’s An Introduction to Modern Architecture, of which I already had a more recent copy – comparing the two editions and discovering how the author revised his text and added new buildings over the course of time was fascinating, to me anyway. R & R also sell various kinds of printed ephemera, and I’ve been unable to resist such delights as old London bus maps and a 1966 Sunday Times Magazine with a special feature on English contemporary poets.
Stroud had another excellent secondhand bookshop, Inprint, but it has recently closed. There’s still an Oxfam with a few books, plus books to buy at the café in the top picture, plus a new bookshop on the High Street. On Saturdays, Stroud’s celebrated printmaking anarcho-cyclist poet Dennis Gould sells a small selection of mostly used books and his own letterpress prints on an outside stall in the Shambles market off the High Street, and R & R have an indoor stall there too. Stroud is an excellent town for the book lover, and for me R & R Books is the place to start – and finish.


Anonymous said...

A friend and I stayed near Stroud a couple of years ago, and we went to that bookshop (and came out with purchases). I remember very much liking the building and its commanding position!

Hels said...

Perfect timing! Just this morning a friend rang to say he was in a second hand bookshop that specialised in my topics - history, architecture and the visual arts. He said he found me two books that I would love and that he would hold them until I got there. Of course the family won't be able to afford food this week, but hey.. it was worth it.

My only complaint is that Art Deco architecture provides better accommodation for second hand books than the Melbourne shop did this morning.

George said...

An American tech blogger once wrote that eventually he understood that his father had spent so much time in hardware stores not because he was looking for particular bits of hardware but because he was looking for ideas. That I think, the serendipity as you say, is what brings us back to used bookstores. I am near the end of a volume purchased (new) on-line; but I'd never have thought to buy it, or its companion volumes, had I not happened on an abridgment at a used bookstore years ago.