This year continues to be one spent mainly touring bookshops and libraries, so it is time spent with the best people. We live in a world of anxiety with a low hum of panic around us, so each act of kindness becomes increasingly powerful. I was recently helping out in The Unexpected Bookshop in Alnwick. Someone came to the counter with an excellent selection of books and I said, “Can I recommend one more – Leonard and Hungry Paul – just read the first paragraph and you will know if it is for you.”
Within that paragraph is the sentence, “She was a person for whom kindness was a very ordinary thing, who believed that the only acceptable excuse for not having a bird feeder in the back garden was that you had one in the front garden.” She read it. It was for her. Passing on beauty, delight and compassion is one of the wonders of the library and the bookshop.
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A few days before, I was giving a talk at Mount Florida Books in Glasgow. It is a small bookshop, but impossible to escape from without finding five books you had never heard of before which will now change your life in some small way (or maybe even a large way).
I started to tell the story of a car crash I was in when I was a little boy that caused severe injuries to my mother. I took myself by surprise. I do not plan talks, and the multiple connections my mind makes second by second means I can find myself in all manner of unexpected places. Emotion rose up to my throat and I could feel it reaching my eyes. I paused – unusual in itself.
In the brief silence, a man at the back said, “Take as long as you need.”