Imaginary Bookshops (4 & 5)


From the outside this looks more like an ordinary bookshop. Along with a selection of books, there are faded maps on display in the small window, so you might expect a healthy travel department within. But a closer look reveals the maps are of imaginary places.

From the counter, just inside the door, you can pick up a map of the shop itself. The shop is only tiny but the map lovingly details where different genres and writers can be found. Navigating the tightly packed shelves using the map gives the illusion of holding the bookshop in your hands, or else of wandering around inside a map.
Every book in the shop, fiction and non-fiction, has a map in it. ‘If it doesn’t have a map we don’t carry it,’ says owner Bill Rowley, who is also the author of the hefty Mapping Fantasy: a Survey of Fictional Cartography. This means there is a large stock of fantasy, a good selection of science fiction, but also a decent crime section: ‘Golden Age whodunits often include a map,’ notes Bill. Then there are all the history books, geography books, astronomy books, sociology books. In some books the maps are discreetly inked – they might be tucked in at the front or back – in others they materialise unexpectedly on page 72, or they fold out from the middle in Technicolor to many times the size of the book. Bill is fond of saying ‘You can’t get lost in a book that has a map’. But I think I disagree.


You enter the book garden through a wooden gate, set in a low stone wall. Even in winter the garden is a tangle of plants and trees. A maze of paths leads you through archways into the hush of an orchard, and then on to a bridge over a trickle of a stream. At first it’s hard to see the books, but they’re there. Waiting on shelves in the hollowed out trunks of trees, shielded from rain by glass shutters with hinges buried deep in the wood; in small slate chests between mossy stones; alphabetised in rows underneath benches. There’s a rusty wheelbarrow full of books on the lawn. A bird table is packed on all four sides, another nearby laden with nuts and crusts so as to keep on good terms with the birds. When the weather is fine, piles of books are left out beside the path.

The stream dribbles into a pond, or it appears to. But if you look beneath the clouds reflected on the glassy surface you’ll know to kneel, brush aside the overhanging ferns, and lift the lid so you can dip into the basin of books below.