I’ve had my eye on Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights since I first saw the phrase ‘Reading Spa’ on an Instagram story (more on that later), so imagine my excitement when Mr A-B not only surprised me with a mini-moon to Bath, but unknowingly booked an apartment round the corner from this awesome independent bookshop…
Mr B’s is my dream indie bookshop. Friendly, book-loving staff, slightly creaky floorboards, quirky furnishings and shelves upon shelves of books (obviously). The best thing about indie bookshops is the value that they add. Whether it’s staff recommendations, unusual books, book lists, Mr B’s has it all. Mr B’s is also the best example I’ve come across of curated collections – I didn’t recognise the vast majority of these books and that was SO EXCITING.
I walked in on Tuesday (our first full day in Bath) and started wandering around the ground floor. I quickly came upon a display that was literally in a bath, and knew these were my kind of people.
I had a browse of some of the “Mr B’s Thoughts” shelf tags, and found myself heartily agreeing with Sam on more than one occasion – unfortunately he wasn’t one of the staff I went on to speak to in person, but if you’re reading this, Sam, keep plugging The Fifth Season, everyone needs to read it!
I wandered upstairs and found the shelves containing lists of recommended books – shelves from staff members, shop supporters, and Mr B’s hall of fame – and spied the Reading Spa room. Yes friends, it’s a thing, and I NEED ONE. Imagine sitting down with a member of the Mr B’s team, being given tea and cake and given a stack of books suited to your personal tastes. Count. Me. In.
Unfortunately they get booked up six months ahead so I couldn’t partake on this occasion, but suffice to say, unsubtle hints have been dropped.
At this point, I got totally overwhelmed.
- All the books – what to choose?!
- On my mini-moon – do I go for something totally new? What if it’s crap and that’s the book I bought on my honeymoon? Do I buy something I’ve had my eye on for a while that I’m confident I’ll like? But then I’m hardly taking advantage of indie bookish goodness…
Yes, I see how stupid it was in hindsight but there we are.
Mr A-B was quite concerned to round a corner and discover I was holding one book (Safe by Derek Owusu), while he had a stack of five…what had happened to the book-buying addict he’d married mere days ago?!
We took our stack to the till and had a lovely chat with Ed about graphic novels, Mr A-B had been delighted to discover a whole range beyond the usual Marvel/DC selection. Given the size of the stack we were buying, he was kind enough to throw in a free tote bag and a cheeky discount to celebrate our honeymoon! Mr A-B also picked up a mug to round off the trip – he flipping loves a mug.
On Wednesday, I was prepared. I’d got out of my own head and meant business. My first stop was the till, where I asked Lucinda for some fiction recommendations. She came through with one I’d never heard of and two I’d already been curious about – Lilian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney (what a title!), A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles and Uprooted by Naomi Novik.
I then went off to have another browse and headed straight for the graphic novel section, inspired by Mr A-B’s finds the day before. Given my love for The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger’s Bizarre Romance was my first choice, a graphic short story collection produced in collaboration with her husband, Eddie Campbell. I then followed this up with Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, and Illegal by Eoin Colfer.
Thursday’s trip had a more specific focus on YA. I had a wander round then decided to seek further recommendations, asking for YA books that weren’t set in US high schools, as I was trying to get away from the standard stuff. I had an interesting conversation with Amy who was initially very apologetic, thinking that she didn’t have a lot to offer and reflecting that actually the YA genre was very US-focused, and that the diversity tended to be found mainly in YA fantasy (which I was open to). She handed me some options, I thanked her and she left me to continue browsing. A minute or so later, Henry appeared, asking if I was the person looking for recommendations, and added two more to my stack. Shortly after, Amy reappeared asking Henry about another book she’d another colleague had suggested, which he agreed with and handed to me. It was such a lovely experience to see such a friendly team who were all focused on getting the perfect book for every customer and supporting each other in achieving that.
By the end, I was holding a stack of six books – knowing there were other places I wanted to explore, I decided to whittle it down to the three I was most intrigued by: The Girl King by Mimi Yu; Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn; and The Wall by William Sutcliffe.
To those I added How Long ’til Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin – breaking my rule of not buying books I already had my eye on, but I figured this one might just be worth it – and How’s the Pain by Pascale Garnier. On our first visit, Mr A-B had chosen a book from Mr B’s ‘Hall of Fame’ because he thought that would be a nice keepsake, and so I chose the Garnier for the same reason. It was a limited edition produced by Gallic Books in collaboration with Mr B’s themselves, so I decided it was the perfect keepsake from this wonderful place.
Friday, our mini-moon had flown by and it was time to check out of our beautiful apartment and head back to London. I was reminded of how much I love my new husband when he suggested that he go and find somewhere to park the car while I go and make one last visit to Mr B’s. Suffice to say, no further convincing was needed.
My final day’s haul was a selection I’d been telling myself I didn’t need and was now saying “screw it, I’m still on mini-moon!”. I’d seen yet another shout out from Traci at The Stacks for The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, which one her Battle of the Books, so decided now was time to give it a go. By give it a go, I obviously mean buy, who knows when the actual reading part will happen…
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli is one of the Women’s Prize 2019 Longlist, and had been sitting at the till tempting me on my first three visits. On Friday, it had vanished, at which point I knew I should have bought it – luckily it had just been moved to another part of the shop, so I snapped it up. My final two choices were Yes, You Are Trans Enough by Mia Violet, and Eve Was Shamed by Helena Kennedy.
If you’ve been keeping score, you’ll know that brings my total haul to 16. In four days. Doesn’t even include Mr A-B’s haul (some of which I might also want to read..) – this is the power of Mr B’s, people. Why aren’t you en route to Bath already?!
For all you suspicious people out there, they did not pay me to say any of this. I just love this place that much. I’m harbouring thoughts of moving to Bath. I’m semi-serious about that.