My first job was repairing the spines of broken books at Armchair Books on the
West Port in Edinburgh for £3 an hour. That was sixteen years ago and the only
changes are the smashed window that gives it a louche air (you have to peer at
the merchandise through a cobweb of broken glass), and that there are even more
books, tucked in behind other books or piled into boxes out front. It smells as
a second hand bookshop should, of old paper and types of printing ink no longer
used, of dust and damp carpet.
Armchair Books is most notable for its collection of literary fiction which spans
the entire west wall of the shop. The crammed shelves are a bibliophile’s dream.
It’s the kind of place where you walk in to buy one book and emerge with a bag
full – which is also aided by the fact that they are not unreasonably priced,
especially the hardbacks. I bought an illustrated pre-Second World War (but
undated) leather-bound Collins edition of Scott’s Waverley for £4. I’ve never
managed to get through Scott, my grandfather’s favourite author, but since I now
live near Waverley Abbey in Surrey which inspired the Waverley series, I feel I
ought to settle down in an armchair and give him a go.
There’s definitely something pleasing about buying books from somewhere like
this, rather than receiving the anonymous package from one of the big websites.
It’s an experience rather than a transaction. But, if you can’t get to the
bookshop yourself, you’ll find them on Abe (here) and you can get their books sent
directly to your own armchair.
72-74 West Port, Edinburgh