I was overjoyed to see a new independent bookshop in town while doing my Christmas shopping last month. Books on the Hill offers an impressive range of new and second-hand books where I can have my literary pick of the weird and wonderful. From the outside, this idyllic little bookshop, painted deep forest green, has a certain charm and looks quintessentially English, almost Dickensian.

The windows are decorated with bookcases displaying a wonderful selection of books across a wide variety of genres. An art nouveau floor lamp with a dragonfly shade emits a warm green light. A small table features a glass paperweight with a deep pink rose set within it and a stack of hardback Shakespeare plays priced at £100.

Inside, dark terracotta walls create a warm sanctuary, the perfect literary space away from the high street. When I walk in, I sigh with happiness, over the moon that we have another bookshop in the centre of town alongside Waterstones and Oxfam books.

The bookshop is spacious and divided into zones. The front door is set back and as you step in you are presented with a huge round table full of newly released literary hardbacks and coffee top table books; all neatly arranged if you are looking for that special gift.

Independent bookshops like this provide a friendly atmosphere for book lovers, offering an opportunity to delve and discover. Booksellers have time to be extra selective and can enjoy the luxury of making more personal choices for their customer preferences.

I enjoy my chat with Antonia and Francis, booksellers genuinely interested in literature and not rushed off their feet as in larger bookstores. They tell me about their favourite reads including gothic and detective fiction and some of the interesting events they have planned. There is a regular fiction and non-fiction book club, poetry readings, and very soon, Burns Night will be coming up in celebration of Scottish culture. I’m told that bagpipes may be involved!

Along with the latest publications, the range of genres is wide. The shop is filled with a select choice of classics. The book Bowie in Books catches my eye and I have to buy it as I’m a huge Bowie fan; it lists his personal top 100 books, which he compiled three years before his death. Amazing!

I flick through Huw Lewis-Jones’ A Writer’s Map, an enchanting atlas of imaginary lands and then Botanicum; it is huge and packed with colourful hand-illustrated designs celebrating plant life published in association with Kew Gardens.

To the left of the entrance are two wooden cabinets with glass facades. As a modest collector of first edition books I’m always interested to see what the buyer has been able to acquire and ask to have a look in this cabinet of curiousities. Inside, first editions in their shiny covers include The Poetic Image by C.Day Lewis, along with a vintage edition of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. I flick through a signed first edition hardback copy of Bridget Jones Diary. I love the weight and feel of it. The thick creamy pages and text make it a pleasure to read.

I step further back into the shop where hundreds of vintage and second-hand hardbacks fill the shelves. Bookcases are cleverly arranged between the beams and columns behind the till. Soft yellow light diffuses from star shaped lampshades. I spot a small brass bust of Shakespeare at the end of a long row of his plays.

I love the subtle finishing touches like the antiqued vase filled with dried hydrangeas and a Victorian ceramic phrenology bust resting at the top of the essays and biographies bookcase. I walk deeper into the room and take my time to browse the paperbacks. Books from our childhoods fill the shelves, publishers from Armada to Ladybird, and of course an abundance of dusty little orange penguin paperbacks, from Biggles goes to War to The Secret Seven Fireworks.

I pick up a worn copy of Nesbit’s The Phoenix and the Carpet and fondly remember my sister and I watching the TV adaptation of it after school. I then surprise myself with my purchase of The Story of Dr. Dolittle, the first story of the series written and illustrated by Hugh Lofting in the 1920s. As a new Hollywood film of it will be coming out soon starring Emma Thompson and Robert Downey Jr. I’d like to read it first.

The book corner by the fireplace looks welcoming with select books scattered about. The manager explains customers are very welcome to come and sit in the armchairs, relax take their time to dip into books of interest. I sit back and enjoy the chance to curl up with a poetry book and linger.

Suddenly the hanging doorbell chimes, a customer walks in and asks for a copy of Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. It feels so old-fashioned and cosy, I almost feel as if J R Hartley is going to walk in next and enquire about his book on fly-fishing!

As I leave, I think about how people will always love to browse in old fashioned bookshops and how England is lucky to be so rich in bookstores with plenty of opportunities to refresh our book collections. In fact, according to the Booksellers Association, the number of independent bookshops on the UK high streets has risen over the past couple of years.

This retail experience has been about delving and discovering, chatting with fellow book lovers, sharing literary knowledge, and being presented with a huge choice of literary possibilities, something that an online screen and a digital basket could never ever dream of.

  • Marisa Laycock moved to St Albans in 2000. She enjoys sharing her experiences of living in the city. These columns are also available as podcasts from 92.6 FM Radio Verulam at www.radioverulam.com/smallcitylife