BETWEEN two bookshops – Waterstones in Sauchiehall Street, and Foyles in London – I have just blitzed Xmas.

All other retail experiences fall upon me like a plague of boils. But wandering round these bookshelves – taking a single hour to do each comfortable shop, picking items exactly appropriate for each recipient – has nearly made me a fan of consumer capitalism again.

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And it seems commercial fortunes are indeed turning for bookshops, certainly large and maybe small. There is year on year growth of £22 million, according to the Nielsen BookScan. The Bookseller reports both that Waterstones looks like it will be posting a second year of profits – and that overall book sales could be as high as £1.6 billion this year (the pre-Crash heights were £1.9bn).

The numbers of independent bookshops in the UK even grew by the princely number of one last year – in an environment where more than a thousand of them have disappeared over the last two decades.

Why the good news? Well, it has to be good news at Xmas – 40% of all fiction and non-fiction is sold in December. But there are a range of reasons – some of them interestingly zeitgeist-driven.

Showing some of the biggest rises are children’s books – the JK Rowling and David Walliams franchises are particularly roaring. Is family reading a shelter from the general tumult? “Feel-good” volumes like Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, or the NHS doctor’s memoir from Adam Kay, This Is Going To Hurt, have also done amazingly well.

Yet engagement with the times also seems as lucrative as recoiling from them. Sales of books on politics are up by 50% this year (the Trump expose Fire and Fury a big chunk of that). And two of the year’s major selling non-fiction authors – the historian futurist Yuval Noah Harari and the psychologist Jordan Peterson – can hardly be accused of a lack of intellectual or political ambition.

Perhaps no surprise, then, that the leading Xmas non-fiction bestseller is Michelle Obama’s Becoming, which encompasses personal and political narratives perfectly (my 86-year-old mum has requested this of me).

The trade press also notes that physical sales through actual bookshops are also increasing.

The remarkable strategic turnaround of Waterstones by the London bookseller James Daunt is partly an explanation. Daunt returned autonomy to the shop’s booksellers, encouraging them to follow their own nose on what titles to promote, and ramping up author and public events.

Certainly the main Glasgow branch, always convivial, has become a hipster hangout on its top floor.

I was gently moved from my coffee table the other month, because Cafe Scientifique were about to set up their monthly discussion in the outlet’s talkspace. Topic: “Can art ever inform science?” Never have I been happier to be harassed by shop assistants.

Behind all this, of course, is the thundering behemoth of Amazon – long-time scourge of the bricks-and-mortar bookshop. I enjoy the various warm accounts of independent booksellers enticing customers into their shops with the human touch – whether through curation, or tea and cake, or whatever it takes.

But I remember the last time I actually was hassled by a bookshop assistant was when I took out my phone to snap the covers of a few books.

“You can’t do that in here”, muttered a T-shirted Prospero. “You’re not allowed”. I remonstrated a little. “What, do you think I’m stealing their souls?” No, came the grim reply. “I think you’re going to price-check them against Amazon”.

I wasn’t – in fact, it may have been slightly worse. I had been surfing the possibilities in a particularly academic section, hoping to track down the writer’s university webpage and download a few free research papers. But I have since discovered that this is practice known as “showrooming” – that is, using bookshops to research titles and then buy them cheaper online.

I’m not quite not guilty here. But my own practice is much more to showroom and then buy on Kindle.

I need to have a portable research library with me as I buzz around from gig to gig. Short of pulling a small library trailer around with me, e-books are the best (and least muscle-straining) option.

E-book sales have levelled out at about 30% of the market. And it seems that the immateriality and ubiquity of digital books have had a delightfully perverse effect. That is, they’ve driven people back to the paper book – in all its materiality and specificity.

We live in a weightless info-world of memes and search-boxes. Even the best stuff sometimes overloads us (all those “liked” articles we never quite get round to reading). In this miasma, buying a solid book expresses quite a commitment.

The first element of this is literally bodily and physical. You’ve chosen to carry this lump of wood-pulp-and-ink around with you, in your already cluttered bag.

Or place it somewhere in a pile or on a shelf, along with tottering fellows in an already untidy house. In any case, it’s another object in your life of stuff – so it has to justify its existence there.

And that’s the second element. Buying a physical book, in a digital era, can mean an increase of commitment to the writer, or their topic.

My great vice at the moment are those translucent bookmarking strips, available at most good newsagents but not exactly cheap. If I’m lost in a compelling book,

I festoon pages with them, turning one side of the book into a feathery rainbow.

I showed my vice to a grand Scottish intellectual recently, who toyed the hundreds of strips at the edge of his collected works with his finger. “Feels nice”, he rumbled.

If I had one great request of the publishing industry, it would be that they think seriously about standardising the relationship between hardback and e-book. We still want to buy our books from shops, to enjoy the ruffle of their pages and their clutter on a display table. So why do we have to pay substantially again for a digital version that’s literally an instant stream of bytes from a server?

Money, money, money. But I can think of two lefty publishers – Verso and O/R Books – who experiment freely with bundled offers of digital and hardcopy books. Perhaps their readers are particularly interested in using their volumes as a resource for research.

However for me, if every book on my shelves had its implicit digital complement, that would enhance their aura and significance, not diminish it. Bottom-line: I might well buy more physical books as a result.

That we should proliferate such meaning-driven, thought-provoking spaces in society – or even preserving them – is another discussion. Shouldn’t our public libraries be as mood-enhancing and fulsome as the local Waterstones?

But nevertheless, that actual books and actual bookshops are strengthening, rather than weakening, their presence in our everyday lives deserves at least two hearty cheers.