A Bookish Week Off: Between Planets

On Thursday I decided I would not travel quite so far afield.

The obvious candidate for book shops within easy travelling distance was Birmingham, yet despite there being two massive Waterstones stores bang in the middle, there is now apparently only one second-hand bookstore in the city: Reader’s World, a short walk from the Bull Ring Centre, down past St Martin’s Church almost at the top of Digbeth on the left.  Sadly, the legendary Andromeda Bookshop, once the mightiest source of science fiction and fantasy books in the UK, is long gone and much-missed.

The only other candidate was in Erdington, a small ‘satellite’ town away from Central Birmingham. I hadn’t been to Erdington since the 1990s so I thought I ought to give the Anchor Charity Bookshop a try in Central Square, off High Street, Erdington.  So I went to Birmingham City centre first, and travelled out to Erdington.

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What a disappointment! Instead of the specialist charity bookshop I expected, the Anchor Charity Bookshop listed in the Inprint online book guide turned out to be just a run of the mill charity shop full of the usual tat, although it does have more books than usual. The stock is mainly general fiction and non-fiction, with only a couple of modern science fiction books amongst a small section of fantasy and Young Adult horror titles.  Nothing there for me, sadly.

Erdington classes itself as a village, but it has become surrounded by the remnants of heavy industry and the only significant shopping street, High Street, is  a nondescript but busy street full of tatty Post-Victorian emporiums and mobile phone and charity shops, the highlight of which for me was Poundland.

Erdington’s biggest surprise is, however, its parish church, which appears to have been converted by the Cybermen…

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Beware of visiting the ‘minor planet’ of Erdington by public transport if you’re not a good walker – the railway station is nowhere near the ‘village’ centre and the buses have all been banished to a nearby main road.

Determined to return to the mother planet that is Birmingham, I wended my weary way back into the city centre by bus.

I walked it from the bus stop to the aforementioned Reader’s World, a tiny shop which I had not entered for many years.

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Once past the dusty but tidy looking shop front,  one enters a wholly different world of tens of thousands of books and magazines of all kinds crammed in up to the ceiling, with one of the two staff members tightly enclosed behind a tiny counter. Take my advice – don’t take a big bag with you if you visit this shop as an injudicious turn may leave you crushed under a paperback avalanche!

There are another two tiny rooms at the back almost equally crammed, with cheaper books and some old collectable comics, pulps and magazines.

Most of the science fiction and predominantly fantasy consisted of piles and piles of relatively recent modern paperbacks, interspersed with the odd collectable hardback, not much to interest me though. I was sniffing for the old stuff!

It was in the second small room that I found a few familiar gems – a small stack of hardbacks from the 1960s – 70s, classics published by Dobson Science Fiction (remember them?) and the Science Fiction Book Club.

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In lieu of any rarer fare, then, I snaffled up a pile of eight small hardbacks at a quid each (see pictures above), and got out while the going was good, as my hay fever was playing up. Whether it was the weather or the accumulated book dust I cannot say, but in any event I think I shall be visiting Readers World again…

I now consider myself an SF archaeologist!

Book fans may care to note that this post was edited and uploaded via iPad in Dr Samuel Johnson’s house in Lichfield, England (yes, he of dictionary fame) while listening to baroque classical music!

Stuart Williams

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