The Aldeburgh Bookshop
16th March 2021

The Aldeburgh Bookshop, Aldeburgh

By Indie Bookshops

Based in the pretty Suffolk coastal town of Aldeburgh, the bookshop is 72 years old and for the last 21 years has been run by Mary and John who started the Aldeburgh Festival once settled in. Check out the tote bag map!

The Aldeburgh Bookshop
42 High Street
IP15 5AB
Telephone: 01728 452389
Mobile: 07855 680911

Twitter: @aldebooks
Instagram: @aldeburghbookshop
Facebook: Aldeburgh Bookshop

In their own words

How did you come up with the name of your bookshop?

The shop is going to be 72 years old this year. Founded in 1949.

Mary and John James

Mary and John James

Who are you? Owns the bookshop? Bit of a bio and pics, please

We are the current owners, we bought the shop in 2000. Husband and wife team, John and Mary James, John was a chartered surveyor in commercial property. Mary worked for many years as an antiquarian bookdealer for the prestigious firm of Bernard Quaritch Ltd in London

Why a bookshop? What made you want to get into bookselling?

Who could resist the opportunity to run a bookshop in a beautiful seaside town. It meant we could bring up our family in the country. We haven’t regretted it for a minute in the last 21 years

General background/history of the shop please

So, as I said, the shop was founded in 1949. Several of the previous retired owners lived in Aldeburgh when we first arrived so we enjoyed hearing about their very different experiences of running a bookshop. One couple didn’t have any bookshelves and the books were piled high. If you wanted a book from the bottom of the pile, you risked toppling the whole lot.

We installed a stock control system—first a notebook by the till, and then eventually the full Bertline system. I remember one of our customers saying how worried they were about our digital system and the beep of the scanner would ruin the atmosphere.

In 2006 we won the Nibbie for Best Independent Bookshop, which was a huge honour.

In 2001 we started the Aldeburgh Literary Festival which usually takes place on the first weekend of March. We managed to stage it last year. This year we have had to postpone it and are considering doing it in September. This will be our 20th Festival and we have had an outstanding array of speakers including Two Nobel Literature Prize Winners.

We have a Bookshop Book Club which meets once a month, currently on Zoom. We’ve been going about 7 years now.

Do you stock a variety of genres or do you specialise?

We have a general stock—with an emphasis on fiction, biography and history which are our favourite genres. We do have a specialised music section as Aldeburgh was home to Benjamin Britten

Do you mainly sell new or second-hand books?

All new. Hardly any second hand. Although we do help customers source second hand titles.

What makes your bookshop special?

Our selection. Our enthusiasm. Our recommendations. Our customers. All our staff are keen readers.

What’s the hardest thing about being a bookseller?

Not having enough time to read all the books.

What’s the best thing about being a bookseller?

Having to read books as part of our job and the opportunities to discuss those books with our customers

What’s the most surprising thing about being a bookseller?

That there’s always some new book or topic—publications are often surprising.

What are the goals for your bookshop?

To maintain our very high standards. We feel that every book in the shop is there for a reason.

Do you think owning a bookshop has changed your life? How?

We were in our late 30s when we bought the shop and we both feel that it has enriched our lives.

What little-known book do you think is underrated?

Both John and I have books we love and press on our customers. John’s is the Transylvanian Trilogy by Miklos Banffy. Mine is This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson.

What well-known book do you think is overrated?

I don’t want to answer that question in case the author comes on holiday to Aldeburgh …

What is your preferred reading genre?

For me, fiction and biography. I was a judge of the Biography section of the Whitbread (now Costa) several years ago and that was a terrific undertaking. John reads more history and non-fiction.

Describe your store in three words.

Full, interesting, friendly

What book is your greatest treasure? Why?

Our illustrated thank you letter from Posy Simmonds after attending our Literary Festival

What was your favourite childhood book? Why?

Mine was The Once and Future King by T. H. White
John’s was Gerald Durrell My Family and Other Animals and Just William

Michael Frayn

Michael Frayn

If you could invite any author for a book signing at your shop, who would you choose?

We are fortunate in being able to invite many of our literary heroes to our Literary Festival—so we’ve had Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes, Margaret Drabble, Harold Pinter, Alan Bennett, Peter Shaffer. We have been so lucky.

Where do you think the biggest change in book publishing will come from?

Hard to say, but we did predict that the rise of E-readers, Kindles and Kobus would be limited. I also think there is so much goodwill and love for bookshops and that the death of the High Street is not on the cards

How do you reach potential readers/customers?

As well as footfall, we make quite extensive use of email newsletters, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

How do you choose the books you stock?
If it looks interesting, whether it’s the new Ishiguro, a history of table manners (Scoff by Pen Vogler) or a book on dry stone walls.

Do you have a favourite publisher? Why?

We loved Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession so a big shout out for Bluemoose Books

Name three books on your TBR.

The new Katherine Heiny (we loved Standard Deviation), Fall by John Preston about Robert Maxwell, and I am intrigued by the novel Brood by Jacki Polzin

What are you reading at the moment?

Just finished Weather and Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offil

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from selling books?

There’s a book for everyone

What music, if any, do you play in your shop? Why?

We don’t

What is the best book-related gift you’ve ever received?

The Faber life-size cardboard cut out cow to promote the Secret Life of Cows has been very useful and we’ve even incorporated it into your website logo. For no particular reason.

What is the weirdest thing a customer has ever asked for?

One Saturday afternoon we were rung by a customer wanting us to look up the answer to their crossword clue in the reference section. That was before widespread use of Google.

What do you get up to in a normal bookselling day?

Nothing is normal at the moment with Lockdown still in place, but a day is usually a mixture of helping customers, recommending books, wrapping parcels, ordering books with reps and unpacking lots and lots of boxes.

What is the nicest thing a customer has ever said to you?

A customer once told us they heard some children skipping down the street in a nearby town shouting out the things they loved and one called out ’The Aldeburgh Bookshop’

One of our special features is our range of beautiful canvas tote bags. Customers take or send the bags all over the world and we mark on a world map where the bags have gone to

Fab Four with Aldeburgh Bookshop Bag

Fab Four with Aldeburgh Bookshop Bag

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