Updated: Oct 24, 2020
The day we’ve all been waiting for has arrived: the bookshop has opened its doors for business. Its interior is tea-pot-like, its furnishings are handcrafted from local wood and its books, of course, are masterfully curated. The curved, drystone walls stretch up into a domed ceiling about twenty-five feet above the wooden panelled floor. Teak bookcases and display frames, made by carpenters on the island, still look like the local trees they came from. Each is unique with sanded branches protruding from odd angles, naturally finished. Behind the desk, suspended on the wall, are three miniature handcrafted chairs - I think I’ve made the right decision by putting books on them rather than naughty children or taxidermy.
Over the past couple of months, the books that travelled all the way from rainy London have been ferried from pop-up to pop-up in tired cardboard boxes. They’ve been in hotel gift-shops, libraries, offices, team-meeting rooms and have endured constant packing, unpacking, seafaring and storage. The books and I have developed a relationship similar to how I imagine Alaskan sledders would have with their huskies. And like huskies, the books are relentlessly hard working - they’ve put up with discomfort and they’ve never made demands. Now, after months of hard work, I’m able reward them with a proper home. I can practically hear them singing.
Usually on Tuesdays, the guests at Soneva Fushi take a short boat ride to a spit of sand that lies in the middle of the sea just before the horizon. Guests dress up in their glad rags, hosts swing on their sarongs and everyone shares a cocktails or two as the sun goes down. Today, however, with the coming of the new moon, the tide is too low for the boats to dock at the sandbank - nobody’s keen to wade flamingo-like in their linen over the coral and so the cocktail party is being set up on the decking outside the bookshop. The books will be showcased in all their glory. I like to think that, after all their patience and hard work, the cocktail party is being held in their honour. Sangria with diced fruit, wine and Prosecco.
One book I have here that compliments the occasion is a collection of booze inspired short stories compiled by Everyman’s Library. Shaken and Stirred: Intoxicating Stories contains alcohol infused stories from the past two centuries from writers such as P.G Wodehouse, Alice Munro and the king of liquor-soaked tales himself, F. Scott-Fitzgerald. The stories have an equal mix of the highlife and the lowlife: the comic price paid by drinkers is explored by Kingsley Amis, Roald Dahl exacts vengeance on wine snobs and Doris Lessing teaches the reader a lesson in drunk love.
The Everyman’s Library compilations bring together short stories from the world’s greatest writers into pocket-sized hardbacks with sewn cloth bindings. Detective Stories is filled with classic crimes and the escapades of those that solve them; Stories of the Sea is an anthology of shipwrecks, sea creatures and Homeric voyages; Love Stories is a nest of romantic entanglement, infatuation and adultery. It’s a series that I highly recommend.
With the books on the shelves, and the Everyman Collections in pride of place, it’s time for the cocktail party. I’m trying hard not to let my nerves show. Teetering wine glasses on teak desks are all that separate the blood-red sangria from the crisp pages of the long-suffering books. People have brought sand in. You can smell the sunblock. I’m experiencing the kind of feelings you get before you take the protective cover off a new phone. Should I just kick everyone out and put the shop into lockdown? The shop’s too perfect to share with others.
Sangria and bookshops mix more like gin and cirrhosis rather than gin and tonic.
However, as you can see from the above photo, I’m in party mode. I’m letting the bookshop faux-pas slide. I’m relying on the old maxim, “What would F. Scott do?” And the answer is, clearly, have another drink.