The BookBus Story
The old boy in the bar on Bourbon Street leant over, put his face near mine, leant in close to me, so close I could hear the whiskey in his voice, and smell the rhythm in his words…
“Im’a give you two piece of advice so you listen up real good now boy. Y’all ready. One. Let the city come to you. And two. Let the good times roll’”
When I think about the BookBus, and I think about the BookBus quite a bit… I think back to the old boy in that New Orleans bar.
Shifting books the old way wasn’t happening. The internet had taken down our pants while we weren’t looking and Google, Ebay, Kindle then Oxfam snuck up, and slowly fucked us from behind.
It wasn’t pretty but there was no other way, we had to get out on the road. We had books, good books, and we knew there were people, good people, who still wanted to hold them, touch them, smell them and possibly own them.
Ken Kesey had the right idea. Buy a fuckin’ bus.
We found our ‘Bus, and promptly filled it with our Books, thousands of them, and the BookBus was born. We launched as #DylansMobileBookstore. To this day no one other than us has ever used that hashtag.
We took the ‘Bus to the Uplands Market in Swansea. And something happened…YOU started buying books again. Stepping on the ‘Bus was like stepping back in time. But we were selling books like no tomorrow. The BookBus provides a doorway into something special. A sanctuary from the outside world and a store of limitless possibilities, its walls lined with escape routes to deserts, spaces and oceans. New worlds inside every cover, on every page.
Better still it was up to us where we parked the ‘Bus. The rules had changed. Our location wasn’t fixed. This felt like Gonzo Bookselling. Free-form, freestyle, free-love Bookselling.
Hunter had a mantra.
Find an event.
Become the Story.
That worked for us.
Before long we had a spiritual home. Laugharne. A village out on its own. Literally, geographically and psychologically. Dylan Thomas said Laugharne was the place where people ‘got off the bus and forgot to get back on again’. Until now. Now we were getting people back on the ‘Bus. The BookBus.
It might have had something to do with the bottle of absinthe we keep on one of the shelves. Buy a book, get a free shot. Not something you’re likely to see on Groupon but a fucking good deal all the same. The BookBus staff and its customers need more oiling than the old ‘Bus itself.
We made a sign to hang outside the ‘Bus and asked people to leave a message. Trouble was the people leaving messages were so damn sweet and the messages they left were so incredible we had to keep buying new signs. ‘Homophobia Sucks’ wrote Paul Durden, ‘Onwards and Upwards’ from Molly Parkin, and Peter Blake left us this piece of wisdom ‘Living well is the best revenge’’ …’Vote Bez’ wrote Bez.
The BookBus was on a roll. It rolled east, coast to coast to Latitude. West to the Brecon Hills for GreenMan. North to Portmeirion for Festival No.6. Anywhere in search of what Sir Clough William-Ellis described as ‘the possibility of pleasurable fantasy’. A never-ending-endless summer tour.
Further. Further was the name of Ken Kesey’s Magic Bus. Further, the lengths we remain willing to roll to find the good times.
‘Let us go then, you and I’ screamed the actor we hired and dressed as a bunny and gave a copy of ‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’ with the strict instructions to read aloud to our customers. And what customers…in our first six months we’d welcomed and sold books to most of our heroes…musicians, artists, film makers, comedians, poets…some of the best minds of our generation…Gruff Rhys, Cat Le Bon, First Aid Kit, Luke Wright, Mike Garry, Keith Allen, Arthur Smith, Kieran Evans, Joe Dunthorne, Pete Wylie, Tom Hollander, Gavin Turk, Pete Paphides, Simon Armitage, Rhys Ifans.
We are 27ft of fully shelved, fully loaded, wall to wall anachronistic, anarchistic, existentialist, surrealist bliss. We offer books to eat in or take away. We are a timeless and timely tide against the death of the high street, the loss of the libraries, the rise of the right and the curse of the Kindle.
Our ‘Bus moves with what Gerald Manly Hopkins might’ve called a ‘sprung rhythm’. You can’t inscape us. We’ll be coming your way soon, and as Frank Zappa once told you Don’t make a fuss, just get on the Bus.
And remember these two things:
Let the BookBus come to you. And Let the Good Times Roll.