Home Bookshops The perfume of the printed page: Caledonia Books, Glasgow

The perfume of the printed page: Caledonia Books, Glasgow

by John Maguire
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Caledonia Books, Glasgow
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Glasgow is simply a marvellous city, marvellous people and marvellous mayhem. On arrival at the majestic train station, you know it’s something special immediately. It allows retailers to trade but they have to adhere to the station’s standard signature style, gold lettering on varnished wood panelling. No branded logos! Oh, if all cities took this stance, wouldn’t that be something? I cannot see Liverpool City Council adopting this policy, for they are too busy keeping Tesco happy.

To spend a weekend with good quality friends is a restorative, but to spend a weekend with good friends in a city like Glasgow is more than just a tonic. Two days that took in a Vietnamese restaurant, black pudding and squid, the West End, Glasgow Cathedral with its epic graveyard on a hill, the shrine of St Mungo, Kelvin Grove Art Gallery complete with the Dali Crucifixion (Christ of St John of the Cross) and the Winter Gardens in the People’s Palace on a par with Kew.

dali crucifixion

And of course I was as ever drawn to find out a little independent book store. I found a book shop by sheer accident, Caledonia Books, Glasgow. Books are the souls of the people who have been these ways before. Ideas trapped and contained on pages held together, bound by leather with the owner of the thoughts emblazoned on the spine. Words carefully put together into syntax that can ignite a reader’s imagination, cause explosions of inspiration or nourish the cranium.

However, certain books can have the reverse effect, they can rot, destroy or drain the life out of the reader. For instance a lot of famous-for-being-famous biographies, lives dull as dirty dishwater or Fifty Shades of Grey, diabolically bad. Poor excuses for tree killing. Fifty Shades is for people clearly who have never had good sex in their lifetime or lack the imagination to have good carnal relations. I got as far as 10 pages into the book (just to see what all the hullabaloo was about) and I’d signpost those who feel the shades was tantalisingly titillating to go away and read The Story of O by French author Anne Desclos under the pen name Pauline Réage.

If this Glaswegian store and the smell that permeates from it was bottled and put into the perfume market, it would be known as Printed Page. On entering Caledonia Books, Glasgow, the eye is immediately drawn to a narrow steel spiral staircase ascending up to a stock room, an attic crammed with yet more books. The walls are coated with volumes all crammed into concise labelled categories, Scottish fiction, poetry and drama with a barrage of healthy fiction in the centre aisles.

Caledonia Books

Here you are welcome to wander through the mini-labyrinthine library. As I am currently writing a play, I find it is helpful to read other plays and books about writers, so recently I’ve been devouring the bitter but poetic Steven Berkoff and his collection of one act plays. It was like chewing a whole bag of lemons but an exciting experience. Today in this Scottish Sanctuary, I bought a book of interviews with writer Dennis Potter, Potter on Potter. I love the way sometimes it is the book that finds you!

I also stumbled upon a book by Samuel Beckett, his first piece of fiction. I was drawn to its battered look with strange red blotch on the pages, the markings of a sloppy Shiraz stain perhaps? The quality of the customer service in this establishment was evidenced in the sale of the books. The chap who served me decided to give me the wounded Beckett book for free instead of £1.50. So the compromise was that £1 went into a charity store donation box.


I always like to seek out a small independent book store when I visit cities around the world and I would beg the readers’ of ten minutes hate to take up this healthy habit. My mantra is read, recharge and reflect, inspired by the owner of another amazing book store in Liverpool, Kernaghan Books, read, think, grow. I think the two mottos complement each other quite nicely.

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