Stories in Rocking Horse Attics…

Maundy Thursday in the beautiful city of Bath was a day of shifting spring sunshine and a pouncing April Fool wind. Swathes of daffodils shivered in Victoria Park, lesser celandines were opening their petals beneath stately trees…

Picture of a Lesser Celandine

Lesser Celandine, Ranunculus ficaria

…and we, via Royal Crescent, The Circus (and no doubt the route of many a Jane Austen stroll) were on our way to The Paragon – and our first ever visit to  Topping & Co. booksellers

As we approached the pale blue shop front, we caught tantalising first glimpses through its windows – warm light, lingering readers, towering walls of books, beautiful wood floors – and then the door was closing behind us, and it was like entering a gentle fold of time, back to the bookshops of my childhood…

All around us, floor to ceiling, there was a vast selection of titles; row upon row of backlist volumes as well as current bestsellers, a discerning variety and breadth of choice wherever you looked. The natural history section was a rare treat in itself – packed full of carefully chosen titles spanning years of the best nature writing, not just the latest releases or TV tie-ins. Here was an ideal roll call of writers – a lovely selection of titles by Richard Mabey, Roger Deakin, Robert Macfarlane, and all the others you would wish to see represented there. It was wonderful to see the New Nature Writing issue of Granta tucked between them, completing the picture.

For a long while, I browsed in the children’s section and marvelled at the beautiful display of hardback gift books. It was a feast of magic for the eyes. Spines of sumptuous red, green, blue or inky black – gold blocked and cloth-bound volumes, all primed to begin their journeys through the lives of generations of readers to come. Heirlooms waiting for a home…

My eye was particularly drawn to a gorgeous cloth-bound volume, containing Susan Cooper’s complete The Dark is Rising sequence; a gem of an edition which I’ve not seen anywhere else – and, until now, never knew existed. It was so heart warming to see this fitting tribute to how special these books are – a gem for a gem, made to be treasured.

There’s something about storybooks like these, especially when gathered together in such numbers – that speaks of magic libraries in mysterious, Green Knowe houses; volumes waiting to be read in rocking horse attics, or in secret gardens – or on Gyptian ships bound for Svalbard…

My daughter’s eyes were shining as she drank it all in. Everywhere we looked our gaze fell on abundant treasures. Bookshops like Topping’s feel such an organic part of the journey of reading. They intensify the whole sensory and tactile experience, so that even before ‘Once Upon a Time,’ the discovery and anticipation begin.

The only way we’re going to keep these special places, and the experience they offer, is to spend money in them – so, as my daughter had some saved up Christmas money, she was able to make her selection from the ‘magic library.’

She chose this beautiful Everyman’s Library Children’s Classic edition of a well loved favourite, Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty:

Picture of Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Her old second hand paperback copy has all but fallen apart after many a bumpy rucksack journey to school – so this will be her treasure-copy, living long on her shelves for repeated readings (I can almost see those imaginary great-grandkids turning these pages in years to come!)

Picture of illustrations from Black Beauty - Everyman Children's Classics

On its first journey home as heirloom-in-waiting, Black Beauty was joined by Cornelia Funke’s Inkspell (my daughter’s other choice from Topping’s shelves)  – plus quite a hoard of other books which, earlier in the day, we’d bought with our stash of chain-store gift tokens left over from Christmas:

Picture of a hoard of new books

Picture of books - The Little Stranger and Case Histories

I’m looking forward to reading the Sarah Waters and Kate Atkinson (I loved the gripping storytelling and Woman in White, gothic feel of Fingersmith. And Kate Atkinson is a firm favourite, always providing a sparkling festival of fiction delights) but I’m sure I’ll be borrowing some of my daughter’s choices too!  

We’ll definitely be back to Topping’s whenever we get the chance. In fact, I can feel the pull to return there already. Our Rocking Horse Attic is just an imaginary one – but that gorgeous edition of Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series definitely belongs there, I think…