Leakey’s Bookshop

My mom likes to help me plan my weekend adventures. I’ll tell her I’ve decided to go someplace, and my Facebook chat is instantly filled with lists of things to do in that place. It was no different when I went to Inverness last fall.

One of the suggestions my mom sent me was Leakey’s Bookshop, a secondhand bookstore in the heart of Inverness. Confession time: Until recently, I generally avoided secondhand bookstores, thinking that all they had was trashy dime novels that nobody wanted and didn’t feel right offloading on Salvation Army. This is a bit embarrassing, especially as I lived right down the street from Armadillo’s Pillow, one of the best secondhand bookstores in Chicago.

In addition to being unjustly prejudiced against secondhand bookstores, I have the problem of being constitutionally incapable of walking into a bookstore and back out of it without spending at least $20. A friend of mine literally dragged me out of a Waterstones one day, since we were both at that point where there was too much month at the end of our money, and it took my brain a few minutes to catch up with the situation.

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So, when I was in Inverness, I wasn’t going to go to Leakey’s. I went out to Beauly and walked around the ruined priory there, then hopped the train back into town to wander around a bit. As it turns out, Inverness is actually quite small, and it being early November in the Highlands, it was colder than snot. I was walking around, searching for a cozy-looking cafe to duck into for a while to thaw out, and instead I came across Leakey’s.

Leakey’s is housed in a rather large and squarish building, but once you go inside it become apparent that it was a church – the Gaelic church in Inverness, which dates back to 1793, to be precise. The whole place was warmed by a wood-burning stove in the middle of the room. Others have commented that it seems dangerous to have a fire in a bookstore, and maybe it is, but to me books and a fireplace seemed just the right kind of cozy to counteract the Scottish dreich outside (dryH; drizzly, dreary weather).

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In an 2016 interview, Charles Leakey, the owner, said that the most important part of his success was the selection of books. He and his team carefully choose which books – and maps, and prints, and postcards – as stocked in the store. For someone with preconceived notions of secondhand bookstores, like me, this is a wonderful realization. On the ground floor, I found all sorts of books on all manners of subjects that I would actually consider buying, including a whole section (two floor-to-ceiling bookcases and one under-the-window bookcase) of Penguin Classics (I love Penguin editions – they’re cheap and reliable, even when bought new). In one section, I found a copy of a book that was on my university reading list which no one on the course had been able to get their hands on through the library and which cost over £50 on Amazon. It was £8 there. Upstairs, I found an impressive collection of 19th- and 20th-century books, from which I selected a nice edition of Charlotte Brontë’s The Professor for £12. Having reached the £20 limit I had very responsibly set for myself, I then puttered around for about 2 more hours.

While I did quite repent of my love of brand-new books, hot off the press, I did come away with a newfound appreciation of secondhand shops. Especially ones with lovely fires burning in them on a dreary November afternoon.

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