Books and well-being are at the heart of what we do and our purpose is to help people to live a life made better through books.
One of the best and most grounding parts of my job is the incredible interactions and conversations that I have with our customers.
There are lots of distractions involved in running and growing a business and latterly I have spent less time on the shop floor.
Yet it is our customers we are here to serve and to engage with and it is when I am on the shop floor that the reality of what a bookshop is and what it means to people in our community becomes clear.
The very physical and human nature of our daily interactions cannot be underplayed. I often don’t realise how much I miss it, until I am back on the shop floor and those golden moments happen.
Recently, I witnessed two such interactions that reminded me how lucky I am to be a bookseller – the kindness, compassion and love that we humans have for each other is astounding and it is only by being ‘present’ in the bookshop and making myself available to our customers that I have the privilege of being part of this synergy.
In late January, as part of our support for ‘Holocaust Memorial Day’ we created a ‘Contemplation Station’ on the first floor, ‘Upstairs at Booka’, showcasing books both fiction and non-fiction that would help people to understand the trauma, human endurance and courage that victims endured and the hope that allowed them to survive against the odds.
The bookshop was quiet that afternoon, but a young woman approached the counter to purchase a book (not unusual you might think). As she paid for it, she said ‘There’s an elderly lady upstairs, she was looking at this book and was writing down the details so she could get it from the library as she couldn’t afford to buy it’. Can you please put it in a bag and give it to her when she comes downstairs?’
I was humbled by her random act of kindness. The lady receiving the book was surprised and overwhelmed. We were both a little tearful and undone by the power of such a simple act. This young woman had recognised that she could do something to help someone else. It was a heartwarming moment.
I didn’t recognise the young woman as a regular customer. I had been busy in my own head, thinking about my next task. This kindness from one stranger to another was a call to pay attention, to look around and see what was happening in my own shop/environment, to remember the pureness of what books do: they help us feel better, allow us to be better and encourage us to do better.
The second special experience took place on the Saturday before Valentine’s Day. Surprisingly enough we were selling lots of cards. Often Valentine’s Day is associated with young love and young people and we forget the wonder of enduring love between couples who have been together for decades.
A man in his 70s approached the desk – mock-secretive, (his wife was close by) to purchase his card. He didn’t want a bag (despite the rain outside), ‘I’ll put it under my hat’ he stage-whispered to me, then stepped away to allow his wife to purchase her card, for him.
‘Oh gosh – I’ve remembered I haven’t brought my purse, so you will have to pay’ she said to him with a lovely smile. Resigned and unsurprised he handed her his coin purse (I love men’s coin purses) and she duly paid, confiding – ‘I couldn’t decide which one, so I’ve bought two’.
They were so comfortable with each other in a way that people who have been married a long time are – but the joy was that they were still taking time to acknowledge the importance and beauty of a loving relationship.
Inspired by these acts of love and kindness that take place every day and to celebrate ‘Random Act of Kindness Day’ on Thursday 17th February, we decided to give away 5 ‘Booka Date’ bundles to random customers. The bundles included a copy of ‘The Split’ by Laura Kay and a coffee. The idea being that people, sit in the café with their book and drink – take some time out for a digital detox, slow down and find comfort and pleasure between the pages of a good book.
Enabling ‘Giving’ is something our customers appreciate and support.
Before Christmas we ran a campaign called, ‘Buy a Book, Gift a Book’ where customers could donate £3.50 which we match funded, to gift a book to the Oswestry Food Bank or a local school.
Those books have found their way into the hands of young readers in our local community – they can only do good.
Kindness is not just for Christmas, one of our regular and loyal customers also approached me to say that he would like to donate the vouchers he receives when he completes his loyalty card to someone who needed them more. I suggested we contact local schools to donate them to young readers who might not otherwise have access to books.
Such a kind and generous gift and so easy to do.
These acts of kindness remind me to be more intentional myself, to think a little more about others around me and to remember the joy that books bring in to all our lives.
Try your own #randomactofkindess this week, pass on a book you love and make a difference to someone else’s life.