If I could identify a book that I bought at Tyler’s, Bangor, about ten or twelve years ago, then that would be my favourite. Tyler’s Academic Books had begun as a rather utilitarian, science-oriented bookshop elsewhere on the High Street, and in my first few years in Bangor I didn’t pay it much attention. But then around the time that I moved to Lon Pobty it moved to a great location at the junction of Lon Pobty and Stryd Fawr, so I walked past it twice a day. And a little bit later a former Bangor English student, Daniel J., took it over. Though it didn’t carry a huge stock, Dan was very efficient at ordering books, and so, when things went well, I could order a book one day, and collect it the next; when everything was going really smoothly, I’d be walking past the shop and a wave from Dan would indicate that there was something waiting. It was far more efficient than Amazon, and he gave discounts to regular customers. And there were poetry readings, though the one I remember best was fraught by cultural tensions between the English-language poets and the Welsh-language ones, and by Dan ejecting a member of the audience for unruly behaviour only to realise that he was actually one of the poets on the bill. I’ve no photo of the bookshop itself, sadly, but do have an old photo of the location in (supposedly) 1911, when it was the City Hotel:
Around the time I moved away from Bangor, in 2005, Tyler’s ceased trading, and when I was last there in 2006, the location was occupied by a clothes shop.
In the absence of an identifiable candidate from Tyler’s, here’s one I bought from The Bell Bookshop, Henley-on-Thames, in March 1986. When I’d been younger, a trip to the Bell Bookshop was a special treat: it had an excellent range of children’s books, and lovely red-and-white bookmarks decorated with its bell logo. Seamus Heaney’s Station Island might well be the first book I ever bought there with my own money, and even more probably is the last I ever bought there. Like the T. S. Eliot Collected Poems I’d bought at the beginning of my time at sixth-form, my acquisition of this felt like some sort of rite of passage: physically, this kind of book was unfamiliar, as my parents had little interest in poetry (though plenty of interest in books), and what poetry books they did have were typically Penguin anthologies. Even more so than Eliot’s Collected Poems, and even as a paperback, Station Island felt physically luxurious, printed on thicker, more expensive paper than books I was used to. And even the Pentagram design was a relative novelty, and didn’t feel oppressively corporate at that time.
We’d been studying some of Heaney’s earlier poems in George MacBeth’s Poetry 1900 to 1975 (Longman, 2nd edition, 1979); from what I can recall, it was the usual anthology pieces from Death of a Naturalist and Door into the Dark: ‘Blackberry Picking’, etc. So far as I recall, MacBeth didn’t include any of the bog people poems. So, coming to this volume, I’d leaped over several stages of Heaney’s development, and hadn’t been altogether properly equipped to deal with it; and there’s at least one poem in the ‘Station Island’ sequence itself that presupposes knowledge of earlier work, ‘The Strand at Lough Beg’ from Field Work, and the Sweeney poems in the third section also presuppose greater cultural knowledge than I had. But I liked the spareness of the poems compared to the over-rich earlier work. It’s not my favourite volume by Heaney — that would probably be Wintering Out — but the memory of buying it is a happy one. And so far as I know, unlike Tyler’s, The Bell Bookshop is still thriving.