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Personal essay: Kat Kruger on the true romance of an AirBnB bookshop holiday

Kat Kruger bookseller holidayMany book lovers, myself included, dream of running a bookstore. Add into the mix a quaint village in Scotland over the Christmas holidays in the aftermath of a failed long-term marriage and you have the ingredients for a rom-com. Call me Emma Stone, but that’s what I signed up for when a CBC article landed on my social-media feed featuring an AirBnB bookshop holiday. For £22 per night I found myself renting out a lovely above-store flat, paying for the experience of being a bookseller for a week at the Open Book.

Ahead of the trip and thousands of kilometres away in Halifax, my writing group joked about the trope of finding a love interest while vacationing abroad. The reality is that while the village of Wigtown has the distinction of being Scotland’s National Book Town, there are easily more books per capita than people. Wigtown boasts more than 10 bookshops and a population of less than 1,000. I was more likely to discover a dreamy dalliance in the romance section of the Open Book than in town. Weeks before the trip starts, I fully commit to the script when I invite a plot twist along for the adventure (a.k.a. the man I’d just started seeing).

We arrived well after dusk amidst a cluster of stone row-houses. Street-level shops were closed for business at this hour and the only lighting came from the square’s Christmas tree swaying in the dark. After winding around the block in search of the right bookshop, we were greeted by a volunteer who gave us a quick tour of the rental.

Kat Kruger bookseller holidayThe shop was crowded with used books and the windows decorated with the artistic flair of the previous guest. The shelves carried more titles on birds than I’d ever seen. Instructions were fairly minimal. The shop was to be run daily but the hours and pricing of books were at our discretion. Then we were left to our own devices.

With Star Wars: The Force Awakens having just opened that week, we spent our first night cutting paper snowflakes from the Star Wars universe. The next morning I made my way across the street to buy a bag of cotton balls from the local pharmacy in order to recreate the snowy landscape of the battle of Hoth on one of the table displays. Next come the shelf talkers for hand-selected book endorsements from characters – “Darth Vader recommends Men In Black” and that sort of thing.

Kat Kruger bookseller holidayBy the end of Day 1 the shop is geek central. When one customer remarks that the displays were “quite topical,” I internally gave myself a high five. Meanwhile locals come and go, some bearing gifts but many popping by simply out of curiosity over who might be running the shop that week.

It was easy to feel a part of the community. Booksellers welcomed us. We became regulars at the co-op market and ate Christmas Eve lunch at the parish minister’s house.

Kat Kruger bookseller holidayAfter closing most days we’d grab a pint at the local pub, where a cat named Izzy would often sit with us. Then we’d head upstairs to the flat, closing all the room doors to keep the heat in before bundling up next to the faux electric fire. The bookshop holiday didn’t deliver the chaos of a rom-com, but the adventure certainly made me pause and appreciate the revisions I’ve made in my life’s script.

Kat Kruger is a freelance writer and author of the YA Lycan Code series.