Whatever Floats Your Boat: The Book Barge

I’m not sure what exactly the connection is, but there’s something about books by the water… come summertime we talk about beach reading, as opposed to backyard or park or lying-in-bed-with-the-fan-on reading, and one of the ultimate immersive reading fantasies is of being a lighthouse keeper. There’s a sense, naturally, of flow, but also of being both focused and unhurried.

So it’s probably not a big coincidence that The Book Barge—a floating independent bookshop based in Staffordshire, England—takes its original inspiration from the Slow Food movement. Proprietor Sarah Henshaw quotes travel writer Alastair Sawday, who notes that the idea behind Slow Food is “really a celebration of people doing things with integrity. It resists the homogenization of food and culture, and longs for the return to a sense of place,” and adds,

Most independent bookshops already aspire to many of these values—promoting stock diversity, strengthening community ties, the act of reading itself. By setting one up on a canal boat, however, the general idea hopefully becomes a little more explicit. In short, we hope to promote a less hurried and harried lifestyle of idle pleasures, cups of tea, conversation, culture and, of course, curling up with an incomparably good Book Barge purchase…

The barge itself is a 57′ cruiser stern narrowboat, bought in 2009 as a partly-finished houseboat and renovated over the course of several months. It’s a handsome, sleek vessel, with an eclectic mix of new and used literature and an extensive children’s selection. Although it’s usually to be found moored at Staffordshire’s Barton Marina, this past May The Book Barge took off on its own six-month tour of the waterways of England. According to the events calendar it’s currently sailing the Regents Canal in Shoredich, West London, and is headed down to Bath afterward to celebrate The Last Englishman, Roland Chambers’ biography of Swallows and Amazons author Arthur Ransome, for its floating book club. It also hosts Book Babies, for toddlers, on Thursday afternoons, and Book at Breakfast readings on Sundays—at the moment, W.W. Jacobs’ 1902 classic The Lady of the Barge (along with the posted caveat: “Please lower your expectations before arrival—both the tale and the teller are decidedly second-rate”).

Not only does The Book Barge sound like an inviting spot to browse and get your sea legs, not to mention a worthy place to spend your pounds, but they special order and even deliver. Maybe not giving Amazon UK a run for its money just yet, but they have it far outclassed in terms of sheer charm:

If you cannot find the book you are looking for please use our in-store ordering service or ring 07946 605324. Most titles can be here in 24 hours. If you live within bicycling distance we’ll be happy to deliver the books personally as they come in, while waterside residents can make use of our unique dinghy delivery service. Those a little further afield can sometimes entice a scooter courier in return for a compensatory cuppa when we arrive.

They do mention tea a lot, don’t they? But consider the source. And I’m sure all that salt air must give one a craving for a nice cup of English Breakfast.

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4 Comments to Whatever Floats Your Boat: The Book Barge

  1. Kat Warren's Gravatar Kat Warren
    July 19, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t mind a reading respite aboard, slowly drifting through England’s waterways …. In point of actual fact, I’d probably kill for same.

  2. July 19, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    Heh. There was a book barge in Swamplandia! !

  3. July 21, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    From a wet England: I too love the idea of tracking down the Book Barge – unfortunately I don’t drink tea – despite being a Vicar’s Wife- and there isn’t much salt air on inland waterways (Canals).

  4. Anonymous's Gravatar Anonymous
    July 25, 2011 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    ……….The Book Barge a buoyant business……First we had then and now quite naturally it seems we have . Were all aware of whats happening to the average independent book shop in todays accelerated one-click internet-led environment they are closing down by the score and its becoming a major struggle for the average independent bookshop to survive.

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