Posted on September 12, 2017
My Mr B’s reading spa
Yesterday I made my second ever trip to Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath. I went there for the first time earlier in the year when I cycled from Bristol to Bath, but this time I was there for a very special reason: I was booked into a reading spa.
I received the reading spa for my birthday (after dropping some fairly heavy hints to my family), and it’s an experience that, as far as I know, is unique to this independent bookshop. Mr B’s is an absolutely glorious place with a huge variety of fiction and non-fiction, a cosy atmosphere, and some really, truly knowledgeable staff. On a reading spa, you are taken upstairs for an in-depth chat with one of these super-great members of staff. Then you are given coffee and cake, a couple of books to look at, and your bookseller goes off to find a pile of books they think you’ll love.
So far, so idyllic, and I certainly had a wonderful time sipping my coffee in the beautiful cream-coloured surroundings and reading a couple of intriguing blurbs. But of course, the main point of the reading spa is the books you are brought, and my bookseller – Jess – got my taste on point. She came back upstairs with a pile of about 14 books and she described each one to me; then, because she’s clearly so passionate about her job that she simply can’t be stopped, she leapt up and grabbed a few more. Some of the books she chose I’d heard of (even picked up and put down again in bookshops before), and some had never even crossed my radar. Jess was incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and it was difficult not to walk out of the shop with every book she put in my hands.
But, of course, I had to. The pricing of the reading spa works like this: you buy the experience for £80 (possibly £85 once you get through the full checkout process), and then on the day £55 of that goes towards the books you want to take home with you. Jess left me alone to make the final, difficult decision, and I whittled my pile of books down to 9 that I simply couldn’t leave behind. They knocked the £55 off the final bill, and I paid the difference (yes, of course I went over). I also left with a mug, a tote bag, a bookmark, and a £5 voucher for my next visit. Jess also emailed me a list of the books I didn’t buy, for future reference.
So what did I get? Out of the wide selection Jess brought me – which included fiction, non-fiction, poetry, short stories, realism, sci-fi and an experimental illustrated guide to fiction – I made off with mostly sci-fi, plus a couple of heartfelt recommendations that I might never have picked up on my own. Hey, it’s important to know what you like and to try something new. Here’s the full list:
- Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner by Katrine Marçal: a non-fiction book about women and economics.
- In Other Worlds by Margaret Atwood: a collection of essays and articles by Atwood about sci-fi and speculative fiction.
- Tenth of December by George Saunders: a short story collection by a much-beloved writer who I’ve never read.
- Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer: the first in a trilogy about a mysterious contaminated zone.
- Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie: a sci-fi novel which won the Hugo, Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke prizes.
- The City & The City by China Miéville: a sci-fi crime novel (and I usually don’t go for crime at all), also by someone I’ve never read.
- Three Moments of an Explosion by China Miéville: a short story collection because I simply couldn’t pick which Miéville book to take.
- The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu: the first ever translated novel to win the Hugo Award, and it was translated by one of my favourite writers, Ken Liu.
- Invisible Planets edited by Ken Liu: a collection of Chinese science-fiction, put together by Ken Liu.
All in all, I’m extremely pleased with my haul, and with the whole reading spa experience. Yes, it’s a pretty pricey thing to do, but I can’t think of a more pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, and I’ve come away with a stack of books that I can be pretty confident I’m going to love. If you’re going to spend your money on new books anyway (or if you’re looking for a gift for a book-lover but you’re not confident enough to buy them actual books), this is a really lovely way to do it.