This month’s professional bookworm is Debbie James from The Bookshop Kibworth in Leicestershire. For Debbie, owning a bookshop had always been a fairytale day-dream – she never thought it would become a reality. She studied music at university, then worked as a teacher and freelance performer – a career that eventually led her to the East Midlands. It was around this time that she started researching existing bookshops for sale… but then spotted an irresistible empty unit on Kibworth’s High Street. The moment had come – it felt right to start a bookshop from scratch, rather than buy an established one. Debbie handed in her resignation in 2009, quickly filled her new shop with books, and opened a fortnight before Christmas. She’s never looked back. The shop has won regional and national awards (including three James Patterson Awards for work promoting children’s books) and has literally doubled in size since opening (an upstairs section was added last year). The clean, bright space is beautifully arranged, with art adorning every wall, inviting chairs filling every corner, and not one duff book on the shelves. Debbie’s team (pictured below; Debbie is on the left) host seven bookclubs, put on regular author events, and even run Kibworth Bookfest. Be sure to sign-up for their mailing list and check them out on Facebook.
Her three big books
‘Elizabeth and Her German Garden’ by Elizabeth von Arnim: I spent a total of three years living, studying and working in Germany – and I travelled there regularly for my previous job. I absolutely love the place. Later, when I moved to Leicestershire, my boyfriend took me to a second-hand bookshop in the city so I could choose a welcome present. Germany was clearly on my mind, as after perusing every single shelf in there, this was the book that stuck out for me: it’s a kind of diary written by an English woman who finds herself married to a German count (“The Man of Wrath”). It’s an hilarious and caustic ode to nature, marriage and identity.
‘The Fountainhead’ by Ayn Rand: I read this whilst studying music in Weimar, where the only other subject one can study at a higher level is architecture. Rand’s book centres on this subject, and introduces us to characters who strive to achieve their goals by giving their lives entirely over to work – having near total disregard for anyone but themselves and their craft. I had never read anything like it at the time, and it got me interested in philosophy and American literature.
‘The Magus’ by John Fowles: One of my fellow bookclubbers chose this recently, and I balked at the size of it when it arrived… But the 670 pages flew by as the story played out: a recent graduate, having just split up from his girlfriend, moves from London to a Greek island to teach at a school there. He befriends an enigmatic and very rich man, and goes on to meet gods, girls and even soldiers from WWII (it’s set long after that). He witnesses and gets involved in events which one struggles to believe can be true, and the book challenges our perception of, and reaction to, what we think is and is not real.
Her two contemporary titles
‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman: Much of the humour in this book comes from how the narrator speaks: she is unusually eloquent, verbose, honest… and this is possibly because she is autistic. She is also very lonely, and has had to endure real cruelty in her life. So this book is funny, and it is sad, and it is wonderful.
‘How to Stop Time’ by Matt Haig: This is an account of the life of a history teacher working at a school in London in the present day… but he was born in the 16th century! It moves between now and then, and is brilliantly researched: it covers so much detail across so many centuries and it’s so deftly woven as to be quite unputdownable.
The one on her ‘to read’ list
‘Headlong’ by Michael Frayn: My ‘to be read’ pile is overwhelming, as ever. I’m looking forward to this one, our next bookclub book (not a new book), because I love how he writes: he’s so witty, and he draws you in to the subject matter so brilliantly that it becomes your new favourite interest. New book-wise, next up for me is ‘The Hearts of Men’ by Nickolas Butler, author of ‘Shotgun Lovesongs’, which I adored.