Sorry. I know this is getting to be a theme. It’s just that one indie bookshop in particular has captured my affection big time.
The Tattered Cover in Denver bears a strong resemblance to Daunt Books in London: a handful of branches all in one city, all places which encourage you to linger, and all with an inventory that reveals not only a deep and eclectic love of the chief product on sale but also an eye for that something a little different in other areas. And sales staff who exude enthusiasm for their work, and go out of their way to be helpful, but don’t get in the way of that all-important browsing.
I had more than usual cause to be grateful for the Tattered Cover’s existence on the visit to the USA which has just ended. The morning after we arrived, Denver was blanketed in snow which continued to fall for the next twelve hours. Since the only way out of Mile High City by road, at least in directions we wanted to follow, is up, up and away over 10,000-foot mountain passes, the only sensible course of action was to stay put until the very efficient road-clearing teams had done their thing. The roads in the city itself were snow-free zones, and it turned out that our hotel was just a few minutes’ drive from the Colfax branch. And though shopping in general is not a leisure activity I relate to, I can happily while away more hours than are strictly sensible in a bookshop, though not, it has to be said, without damage to my disposable income.
That’s largely because the mystery section was a joy: a mix of familiar and less familiar names, and a conspicuous absence of the UK’s obligatory three shelves of Agatha Christie. The Blessed Aggie has her place in the great scheme of crime fiction, but I always think she takes up more than her fair share of shelf space in UK bookshops. In the USA that honour seems to go to James Patterson, but since there’s a new book with his name on the cover just about every month, it’s no surprise.
Despite the sheer volume, his wasn’t a name that drew my eye. I homed in on Marcia Clark and J A Jance, both less well known over here than over there; and I collected a couple of E J Coppermans from the reserve desk. I’d ordered them by e-mail, and there they were, waiting for me.
Two weeks later, having finished the Jance and one Copperman in the evenings, after glorious days spent looping around the South-West, gasping and ‘wow’ing at Mesa Verde, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef, to list just a few of the wonders we saw, we found ourselves back in Denver with several hours to spare before the overnight flight home – and at another hotel just a few minutes from another Tattered Cover branch. More browsing ensued, with more damage to disposable income.
Well, I couldn’t take those leftover dollars home, could I?
It wasn’t over. At the airport, the bookshop was yet another Tattered Cover. By now we were in danger of being stung for excess baggage charges, largely because the suitcases contained a lot more books than we’d started with, and books are heavier than grubby t-shirts, so I settled for some chocolate-covered pretzels as a gift for a friend – but I still enjoyed a twenty-minute browse between Security and the British Airways gate.
The shop itself was much smaller, of course, and carried far more mass market reading matter than the city branches – but its existence still made me want to cheer aloud.
Here in the UK, airport bookshops are like other airport retail franchises: the preserve of big corporate chain outlets. On previous visits to the US they’ve been the same. More power to one indie, not only for thriving in the teeth of aggressive online sales techniques, but also for carrying enough clout to win out over the big guys in an important market niche.
I loved the Tattered Cover when I first discovered it fifteen years ago, and finding that it’s not only still there but thriving and expanding was one of the highlights of a fortnight that burgeoned with highlights. Back at the desk at which I spend a large part of my life, I keep thinking, this time last week...