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The travelling bookworm: books are indeed souvenirs

When you go somewhere – whether it’s on holiday, on a day trip, or just ending up somewhere on a journey – you will usually take back something to remember it by. Gift shops are full of cheap and tacky wonders for you to spend your money on, be they pens, notebooks, rubbers, mugs, posters, or postcards. But what about books? How many of you have ended up buying a book as a souvenir? It is certainly something that I do.

There are a couple of ways this could happen; maybe you find a local bookshop and buy something about the area, or maybe the gift shop somewhere sells books related to the place you have been. At any historical location especially, be it a castle or museum, I tend to gravitate towards any books they may have about the place and its history: as a history nerd, I cannot escape the pull.

What matters is the copy [of a book] you have and the story and memory you may attach to it

Or maybe you feel it is just nice to have something to remember where you have been, where the book does not have to have anything to do with the place but just symbolises and reminds you of time spent there. You may even just gravitate towards book shops in whatever town you are in and buy yourself a book there for the sake of having something to remind you of it.

Whatever you do it is personal and should hopefully remind you of more joyous times. I have certainly gained some weird habits with buying books as souvenirs over the years, even when I tell myself I do not need any more or I have already got something from there. Many years ago, after one of many a trip down to Hayling Island to see family, I came across a small bookshop. I still remember buying a book from there, explicitly as a memory of the place. The book had nothing to do with the place, nor was it a particularly good book. It was called Playing with Phyre by Graham Marks: the story is odd, and I am not particularly sure why I bought it, but every time I remember it or see it on my shelf it reminds me of that time, almost a decade ago.

This is the important thing about buying a book as a souvenir, it reminds you of a time long (or not so long) ago. It does not matter that you could buy these books anywhere, or even just buy them online – you will not be buying another copy of the book anyway, so what matters is the copy you have and the story and memory you may attach to it.

What I pick up in an odd way becomes a souvenir reminding me of time there in that shop and in that town

Whenever I go to Felixstowe, I must visit the Treasure Chest second-hand bookshop, a wonderful place jammed with books. They also specialise in railway books for some reason, so if that is what you are into, I recommend. I always feel the urge to buy something or just explore and what I pick up in an odd way becomes a souvenir reminding me of time there in that shop and in that town. 

The few times I have visited Oxford I also get drawn into a certain Blackwells bookshop simply from the fact that no book fan can escape its allure. Each time I have been has been distinct and I have bought various books there as souvenirs of my time in the city. The first time I ever went to Oxford (obviously from ending up at Warwick it was for an open day) I bought Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, one of the best history books I have ever read. It reminds of the time I spent there in a way that buying something with the name Oxford on it or a pen or mug cannot do for me.

It has become a tradition that, whenever I go somewhere new or I revisit a place, I end up gravitating towards getting something to remind me of my time. It just so happens that as the years have progressed this has become more likely to be books instead of my old habit of collecting rubbers/erasers and badges. I still sometimes get such things, but the act of buying books as souvenirs to remind you of your travels, grand or mundane, has become a personal tradition.

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