Sunday, 7 May 2017

Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights, Reading Spa

Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights is an independent bookshop in Bath, famed for being more than just a bookshop. Its busy calendar of author events and book clubs, blog, and unique reading gifts distinguish it from just books on shelves.

I was lucky enough to receive a Reading Spa voucher for my birthday – which entitles you to an hour or two in the bookshop, chatting with one of booksellers about your favourite books and authors over a cup of tea and a biscuit, before being presented with a pile of books designed to suit your reading tastes. The voucher also includes £40 worth of books and a free mug!**

I spent my Easter Monday morning in Mr B’s, indulging in my spa. When I’d booked the appointment, I was asked about my favourite books and genres to ensure I could be best matched with a bookseller whose tastes were most similar to mine - Emma. As a fan of dystopia, but not conventional sci-fi; abolition and the civil rights movement, but not historic novels generally; crime and detective, but only contemporary; and books which are realistic, challenging and not usually very cheery – my tastes are probably quite niche. But they found me a lovely lady, who could make some good recommendations. I meet fairly few people who have read, or feel quite as passionate about, my favourite books, so it was fantastic to chat with someone who had read them and had enjoyed them. I was already quite familiar with many of the bookshop’s recommended and favourite reads, with a handful some of my favourites too.

Left to browse a couple of new novels and enjoy a ginger biscuit (usually cake, but my dairy intolerance was not cake friendly!) whilst Emma hurried off to find me a pile of books, I was able to enjoy the comfy and peaceful setting of the bookshop. It makes you realise how much more relaxing an experience reading becomes when you’re in a comfy environment, surrounded by hundreds of books you want to read. Half an hour later, and carrying 17 books, Emma returned. And this was the hard bit: deciding which ones I wanted. As mentioned, the voucher included £40 worth of books but you are, of course, welcome to buy as many additional books as you want! Any you choose to leave, Mr B’s will email you a list so you can revisit them another time (when you’ve finished with your first batch). I’d already read a couple, and family/friends already had copies of 2 or 3 more – so that left me with about 12. Emma had read most of them, so was able to give me a quick intro, and some information beyond the blurb to help me make my decision. The best bit was the variety of books presented to me: there were classics from the 60s, a brand new dystopian novel, French detective novels, post-civil rights novels about US land laws. And this was perfect – because I wanted to come away with a variety, and to discover new authors.

I managed to narrow it down to seven purchases:
1. Burial Rites - Hannah Kent
2. The Power - Naomi Alderman
3. The Orphan Master’s Son - Adam Johnson
4. The Power of the Dog - Thomas Savage 
5. Villa America - Liza Klaussman
6. The Laughing Policeman - Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö
7. The Round House - Louise Erdrich 

And left, with a heavy bag of books, a new mug – and plenty of reading material to keep me going for the next few months. The voucher did state that I’d also get a canvas bag for my books and a £5 voucher for my next visit, which I didn’t receive, and was a bit disappointing – but overall a really nice morning. I tend to be quite particular about what novels, and authors, and genres I do and don’t like, so it was a really good opportunity to have my eyes opened to something new. It’s a really thoughtful gift for an avid reader, or someone struggling to branch out into new or different writing. For me, the increased price is a little off-putting (even though it comes with an increasing book allowance), but it is a lovely way to spend a couple of hours, and set you up for many more hours of reading.

UPDATE: Mr B's responded to me immediately, re this blog post & offered to send me the canvas bag & voucher that I had missed out on. It arrived the next day, with a bonus book - a very unexpected, but great, surprise. It's the personal touches which make Mr B's a great bookshop, and the Reading Spa a novel experience. 

**The Reading Spa has recently been changed to be a more expensive £80 gift, but entitles you to £15 worth of books.

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