Between the Covers: What’s really going on in the world of books


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The Independent Culture

Between the Covers is a big fan of real-life bookshops that know about reading and pay all their taxes, and an even bigger fan of canvas book bags.

Three cheers, then, for Jen Campbell, an antiquarian bookshop owner and author of Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops, whose new The Bookshop Book is the official book of this year’s Books Are My Bag campaign, which launches on Thursday. The Bookshop Book is full of bookish facts such as: “For the last 13 years of his life, Casanova was a librarian.” We also learn of hybrid bookshops such as: Silverdell Bookshop in Kirkham, Lancashire, which doubles as an ice-cream parlour; Bouvelard Bookshop in Hastings (a Thai restaurant); and JK Stores Books in Machakos, Kenya, which also sells cows. Best of all, we learn that: “Lignin, an organic polymer found in trees, is chemically similar to vanillin [so] when paper in old books breaks down, they smell like vanilla. This is why antiquarian bookshops smell so good.” It doesn’t say what tax-avoiding online book sellers smell like, but it sure ain’t vanilla.

David Nicholls’s Us was launched last week in the new Renaissance Hotel at London’s St Pancras station, from which the characters in the novel depart on their doomed European tour. (And Between the Covers is not ashamed to admit to having laughed out loud on a train while reading it.) Nicholls (pictured) obviously struggled to get the follow-up to his squillion-selling One Day just right, taking five years and at one point tearing up 35,000 words of an aborted plot. The good news is, he’s now freshly inspired. Talking to a scientist friend to inform Us’s hero, Douglas Petersen, has made him passionately knowledgeable about stem cells. “My next novel is going to be about stem cells,” he confided. “There are these two stem cells, and it’s all about will they get together or not, and then they get together ….” Genius idea, but it sounds a bit familiar ....

Sir Andrew Motion launched National Poetry Day’s Poetry and Memory survey, calling it “fascinating and important”. The poll, at, aims to discover which poems people can recall by heart. Will it be mostly short ones, such as William Carlos Williams’s “This Is Just to Say”? “I have eaten the plums ...”