Book Review: ‘Browse’ by Henry Hitchings.

What’s better than a book? A bookshop! Bookshops have a special kind of magic: the ability to answer our questions; to transport us to anywhere in any period of time; a treasure trove. In Browse, Henry Hitchings asks fifteen writers from around the world to consider bookshops that have had an impact upon them. Each chapter produces a different time and location. Ali Smith tells of the secrets and personal stories hidden within the pages of second-hand books; Alaa Al Aswany recounts the Cairo bookshop where revolutionaries gathered during the 2011 uprisings; Elif Shafak evokes the bookstores of Istanbul, their chaos and variety with the scents of tobacco and coffee. Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor recalls the dilemma of having to choose just one book at a favourite childhood store in Nairobi, while Iain Sinclair shares his sadness on witnessing a beloved old shop close down. Others explore bookshops they have stumbled upon and fallen in love with, from London to Bogotá. These enchanting pieces are a collective celebration of books and bookshops for anyone who has ever fallen under their spell.

Being an absolute bibliophile, I was immediately intrigued by this book.  Each chapter is a personal account of what bookshops mean to the writer and it’s wonderful to read about why they love bookstores. I saw parallels between myself and these writers and whilst all these authors have one thing in common (their love for books and bookshops), their experiences of this one thing are so different. That is one the aspects I love about reading itself: people can read the same books, but their feelings towards that book are completely different and unique.

It was interesting to read how bookshops are different across the world, from their external architecture, to how they are organised within. The descriptions are so vivid I felt like I had been transported to these shops, with their basements, chairs and dusty shelves. Each writer also has their own style which makes each chapter very refreshing to read. It is almost as if each chapter is a mini book in itself. I additionally noticed that there were little things that I could identify with, as could any person who loves books: the feel and smell of a book’s pages, whether a book is paperback or hardback, and how touching the spine of a book is a way of communicating with it. If you have any little habits regarding books and bookshops, trust me, you are not alone, and this book will come as a great comfort to you from that respect.

My favourite chapter was ‘Leitner and I’ by Saša Stanišić, because the way it is written is so clever, yet so accurate. Saša describes his visit to a bookshop like it is a visit to a drug dealer and the books are substances. Each “substance” gives you a different trip or experience, and very soon, you are addicted.  Whilst this may seem like quite a dark way to describe your enjoyment of reading, I think it is incredibly apt; I have often found myself saying that I am addicted to a particular book, or just hooked to reading in general. As Saša says, what better habit could a bibliophile have? It is far from harmless.  Instead, reading is enriching, informative and nourishing.

Overall, Browse is a lovely collection of touching and personal accounts of books and bookshops. Each author’s writing style is unique and transports you across the globe.  If you love books, reading and bookshops, delve into this novel’s pages.  You won’t be alone with your bibliophile tendencies.

Rating: 4/5

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