1996 is remembered for many things. Pokémon feature in their first role-playing video game, mad cow disease and Dolly the sheep hit the headlines and Charles and Diana divorced. Matthew Pinsent and Steve Redgrave won our only gold at the summer Olympics, England lost to Germany on penalties in the semi-finals of Euro 96 and Cliff Richard entertained the crowds when rain stopped play at Wimbledon. The Spice Girls burst into our lives with Wannabee, Britpop peaked with Wonderwall and huge Oasis gigs at Knebworth and the Macarena started its long career as an almost indestructible earworm.
For me, obviously, books played a big part in the year. I’d like to say I read all the big books – Angela’s Ashes, The Beach and The Green Mile for example – but I think I mostly reread Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. Oh, and I read Terry Pratchett (Feet of Clay and The Hogfather…), Bridget Jones Diary and Philip Pullman’s Subtle Knife as well as some history and science stuff (newly dating Rob and trying to impress….). George R R Martin published the first book in A Song of Ice and Fire (and still hasn’t finished the series twenty years on). Films based on books included The English Patient, Matilda, 101 Dalmatians and Romeo + Juliet (although, let’s be honest, I also saw Independence Day, Mission: Impossible and Muppet Treasure Island because I’m a rounded person who doesn’t spend all my time reading. Its more like 75% I reckon…)
In 1996 I started working for Waterstones, in a beautiful store in Newcastle. There was even a Victorian loo in the staff area and, frankly, I didn’t think I’d ever get to work in a lovelier shop. Little did I know that just over a hundred miles further south something really, really special was happening in the world of bookselling. In October 1996 Waterstones in the Wool Exchange opened its doors and the books have lived in Venetian Gothic splendour ever since!
Waterstones in Bradford may not be the best thing to come out of 1996 (did I mention Muppet Treasure Island?) but I think it could be the best looking bookshop turning twenty this year.