Alan Wright - The final chapter for books?

LIKE many towns today, Hartlepool no longer has a “proper” bookshop.

Of course, supermarkets and other retailers do have books among their stock, but we will probably never again see a shop dedicated solely to the book trade.

The lovely old photos in the Hartlepool Mail are good reminders of a time when we had several shops which specialised mainly, or exclusively, for the customer who liked to browse before buying a good book.

My memory goes a bit hazy here and I can’t perfectly remember who did what when I think of the names of shops like Sage’s, Whitaker’s and others.

Of course, the world has changed and I must admit that the last few books I’ve bought have been in electronic formats which ping onto the iPad as if by magic.

As an aside, I always marvel at the fact that the cost is taken from my bank account in seconds and an e-mailed receipt arrives soon afterwards.

Odd, then, that some banks can take a few days to credit a deposit!

Traditional books will always suffer by comparison with the modern way of reading.

A lot of summer holiday flights must have been much lighter this year with people taking their holiday reading on lightweight devices like Kindles and iPads.

I don’t know if anyone ever fills one, but I’m staggered by the claim that these gadgets can hold up to 2,500 books!

Like all progress, though, it’s not all positive, and there are some things which are lost.

My combined office and den at home is lined with books and many of them contain memories as well as words.

A fair number were bought from Hartlepool bookshops in years gone by, including my student reading list which was collected from Whitaker’s (in Church Square I think?) in the summer of 1965 just before I set off to start reading for a degree in Leeds.

Going back even further, I still proudly possess what I think were the first hardback books I ever owned which were given to me as prizes when I was about to leave Hart Road Junior School. Those books were The Forbidden Study by Hylton Cleaver and a well illustrated classic entitled Nature’s Playground – both with the inscription “To Alan Wright – for good work during the term – E G Brown – July 1956.” I think I’m as proud of those as my degree.

Miss Brown (who had no first name as far as I knew) was a superb teacher and set the young me off on a love for words which has lasted all my life.

Looking back, even her choice of books as prizes was really clever.

The Forbidden Study was a mystery set in a boarding school about as unlike Hart Road as it was possible to be, and the nature book was a world away from the Central Estate.

I’m sure that she was nudging me towards realizing that, simply put, there was a bigger world out there.

I don’t know whether youngsters today get books as prizes or iTunes vouchers or have ever enjoyed the kind of browse through a bookshop where time just disappears.

Without a doubt, though, every time I set my eye on Miss Brown’s prize books, they turn back the clock in a way in which an electronic gizmo could never do.