Back at Ventnor Fringe for its third year, the Book Bus is the festival’s quiet triumph – an unexpectedly calm and quiet space at the eye of the Fringe’s creative storm.
The idea is simple – a pop-up second-hand bookshop on a beautiful 1930’s Parisian Bus – but there’s a reason why it comes up time and time again in people’s lists of favourite spaces at the Fringe.
The books take centre stage
It might be something about how seats are left free for tired Fringers to curl up for a read between the stacks of books, or the eclectic, laid-back soundtrack, or how houseplants soften the edges and make you feel immediately at home.
For Book Bus hosts Tom and Jen, though, the books take centre stage.
“The bus is such a beautiful space. It’s unreal – you step aboard and you’re suddenly somewhere else. But it’s the books that bring the real magic.”
No book snobbery here
So, the Book Bus’s hosts take their books seriously? “Well, yes and no,” says Tom.
“People can get snobby or superior about books – that’s not it at all for us. A book being ‘good’ or important in some way is subjective – Proust might be the be all and end to one person, but the Where the Wild Things Are is definitely more important to our two-year-old godson.”
Curating the collection
What they do take seriously is their role in choosing the books that they stock.
“There’s a huge curatorial element to it all.
“We’re very picky – every book on the bus we’ve chosen. It’s not that it’s all classics, all high literature. It’s just that every book that we carry we think someone will get something valuable from. That’s the criteria.”
Shortlisting incredible books
“That’s it,” adds Tom,
“It’s the constant across this huge range of voices and genres we pull together. We’re not here to tell anyone what they’ll like, just to put all these incredible books in front of people and let them choose for themselves.
“That sort of shortlisting, that’s what makes a good second-hand bookshop so exciting. Bookshops fly or fall on the strength of how well curated their stock is.”
Carefully selected titles
Tom and Jen wear their pickiness is a badge of honour.
“We never buy job lots. We’ve definitely upset some people that way…” says Jen, before Tom tells us about travelling to the mainland to look at a big collection– “hundreds and hundreds of books” – before leaving (quickly) with six choice titles.
“It’s like sifting dirt and finding gold, we’re out there panning for great books.”
Jen puts her tea down and sums it up,
“It means that every book on the bus is there because of a conscious decision to include it… because someone is going to love it.”
Where and when
The Book Bus parks up in front of St Catherine’s Church, and is open from 10am-6pm from Tuesday – Saturday of the Ventnor Fringe.
It hosts surprise free sets poets, buskers and musicians every day, and a popular free children’s story time hour every morning from 11am.