‘Everywhere I stop bookshops are thriving’: novelist Jon McGregor tours his latest book by bike‘ – Bored of the online book readings brought on by Covid, the writer saddled up to see how many independent book stores he could visit in a week on two wheels.
This article is by Jon McGregor and appears in The Guardian.
‘The hedgerows are getting ready to come out’ … Jon McGregor’s view as he cycled between Carlisle and Grasmere. Photograph: Jon McGregor
“In the hotel in Corbridge, Northumberland, the night before I set out earlier this month, there are men talking loudly about whisky and fishing. There is talk of just enjoying the day. It’s your day, at the end of the day. Outside, the chill hardens to a frost and the river rattles over the shingle beneath the town’s eponymous bridge.
“In the morning in the Forum bookshop I sit up in the pulpit of the old Methodist chapel, looking out across a congregation of books and picturing this space filled with people dancing to the “silent book disco” I’ve just been told about. But there’s no one dancing here now, so I finish signing books and talking to the bookseller, and set off on my bike for the high ground between England and Scotland, the road climbing quickly to a ridge of knuckled stone and the weather closing in around me.
“I am cycling – as well as jumping on the odd train – to as many bookshops as I can get to in a week. Having conducted my last book tour entirely online, it feels good to be outside again: meeting people and holding books and putting miles beneath my wheels. It’s been a while since I’ve been out in the world like this, and I’m interested to know what the place is like. The roads are quiet all the way to Carlisle. There are Ukrainian flags hanging from windows, and builder’s vans outside every other house, and the occasional stink of a lawnmower. The hedgerows are getting ready to come out.
“In the evening in Grasmere village, I sit alone in a bookshop first opened by Sam Read in 1887, before the arrival of even a telephone service, let alone the technology enabling the online reading event I’m hosting with the bookshop’s customers now, all joining in remotely. When the event is finished I close the laptop and sit in the particular silence that comes from a room full of books, and imagine I hear the harrumph of an older gentleman who doesn’t think this is how things would have been done in his day.
“At dawn I roll out into the mist rising off the still waters of Grasmere, climbing a steep lane between drystone walls and damp woodlands where the trees have been tipped by recent storms from out of their mossy earth. The trunks and branches lie shattered where they fell...”