This is a review of the Wallingford Book Shop and in it I am going to give away one of my big secrets. Yes, if you know me and you have a birthday coming up please look away now, because my go-to present of choice when I have no idea what to buy someone is always a book. This is only in-part due to the fact that a book just makes a very nice present (have you seen how Iceland feels about them?). Of late it is in far larger part due to the fact that I live within easy reach of Wallingford and Wallingford is home of the super duper, love-it-till-I-die Wallingford Book Shop.
Simply named and simple in concept, the Wallingford Book Shop does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a shop. It sells books. It’s in Wallingford (right in the middle. Near the church. Can’t miss it).
‘So what’s so super duper about it?’ I hear the faint echoes of your voice ask down the ether. ‘I can just go onto Amazon to buy a damn book – and they have reviews’. True, you can buy a book on Amazon and they do have reviews, but what they don’t have – and what the Wallingford Book Shop offers in spades – is really good advice and amazing service.
“I need to buy a present.” This is my standard opening gambit as I walk through the door and am greeted by one or two of the (I think) four smiling and friendly women who work there.
They smile at me, as they always do, not betraying by a single involuntary twitch the thought “Oh god – it’s her again.”
“My cousin is turning 40. She’s a GP. My mum said she might like crime books and she has a cat.” And “My mother in law is having a rubbish time of things and needs distracting with a really good book that’s the literary equivalent of a chick flick or ice cream.” Just two of the (paraphrased) demands I’ve made of them in the last year, not to mention a myriad of “my son is going to a third/fourth/fifth birthday party of a boy who likes clowns/a girl who has 8 sisters/twins who like bikes and stickers – can you recommend something?”
Every. Single. Time they hit the ball right out of the ball park. (That’s an Americanism I’ve picked up by watching too many crappy movies from over the pond. Roughly translated I assume it means they score a winning goal, but correct me if I’m wrong.) Seriously. Even for my dad, so notoriously bad to buy for that we’ve all but given up getting him presents, they managed to suggest a book so right for him that… he already had a copy of it. Oops. But they do offer a refund or exchange for anything that doesn’t meet with approval.
Now, I know what you’re thinking – what if the people I buy for are just being nice and didn’t really like the book? Well, there is that possibility, but I myself have had two books bought for me by friends and I have bloody loved them. One was The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, which I would never have thought to buy for myself, but really enjoyed and the other just happened to be the latest release by my favourite (prolific) author, even though neither my friend nor the book shop knew I had every other book she’d ever written (insert creepy stalker music here).
I was having a wee chin wag when I went in to take photos t’other day and apparently they offer a subscription service which sounds absolutely awesome – you sign yourself (or someone else, if you need a gift that keeps giving) up to it. Alison, the owner, does a consultation with the subscriptee (is that a word?) and then you get a surprise book every month for the duration of the subscription based on your tastes and previous reading. She was even telling me she keeps notes on regular customers so they don’t get duplicate books when their friends come in to buy them gifts. Now that is personal service.
So yes. It’s small. Well stocked. Has books. It’s the staff and their knowledge, service, expertise, and attitude that puts the Wallingford Book Shop so far and away above Amazon and any other large high street retailer. I haven’t frequented many other independent book shops, so I’m going to assume that this kind of service is the norm amongst them because otherwise I’m not sure why they’d even try competing, so please, even if Wallingford is too far away, find out where your local independent book shop is and pay them a visit next time you’re stuck for a present. And if Wallingford is within reach, say Milla from Live Oxfordshire sent you. They know me in there.
And no. I have not received any kind of remuneration, incitement or bribe to write this. I’m just hoping they don’t decide to bar me for asking irritating questions!