Our authors share their favourite independent bookshops
Monday 12 April marks a wonderful occasion: the reopening of independent bookshops across the country. To celebrate and help you revel in all that is wonderful about independent bookshops, we asked some of our authors to tell us about the indie bookshops they visit time and time again.
In a world of next-day deliveries, Ubers, endless WhatsApps and clashing calendars, independent bookshops offer a unique sanctuary. While they each have their own personality, niche specialities and sense of style, they share the uncanny ability to absorb us completely – and of course, that all-important 'book smell'.
A chance to talk to real people about the books you love. Recommendations from booksellers that are passionate about literature. Discovering books you might not have otherwise, and all the while supporting our high streets and local businesses. Indie bookshops sit at the core of our communities and it would seem we are living in a time that needs them more than ever.
Having had to once again go without our literary sanctuaries throughout lockdown, Monday 12 April marks the reopening of our beloved bookshops, and of course, an opportunity for bookworms everywhere to show our favourite indies support after this trying time.
To mark the occasion, we asked some of our authors to share their favourite independent bookshops with us.
Favourite Independent Bookshop – Bookseller Crow, Crystal Palace
My favourite indie bookshop is Bookseller Crow in Crystal Palace. It's where I did my first ever event as an author and Jonathan, the owner, was so welcoming. They have an amazing roster of authors coming to talk about their books, they are down to earth and passionate about bookselling and good writing, and I am lucky to have them on my doorstep.
Favourite Independent Bookshop – Forum Books, Corbridge
This has to be Forum Books, in the beautiful village of Corbridge on the banks of the Tyne.
Forum is a delightful shop. Recently it moved from a rather cramped building to a converted chapel, light and airy, with space for events. But it’s the people who make it special. Helen and her team are enthusiastic, knowledgeable and they have the ability to make everyone, regular readers and occasional browsers, feel welcome. They’re huge supporters of local authors and have come with me to sell in libraries, in a working men’s club, in an ice cream parlour on the coast and in Alnwick Castle! They’ve even allowed me to put them in a Vera short story.
Favourite Independent Bookshop - Burley Fisher Books, Haggerston
Burley Fisher Books in Haggerston is one of my favourite bookshops. I, of course, love Gay’s The Word bookshop in Bloomsbury for its incredible range of queer books, but became very attached to Burley Fisher the year I was writing my own book, as it was fairly local, has a very calm cafe in the back where I could write, and the staff were always up for a books-related chat to distract me from what I was supposed to be doing. I've bought many books there, ranging from Olivia Sudjic's Exposure (at her launch event there) to some bargain £1 Penguin Moderns (like James Baldwin's Dark Days and Andy Warhol's Fame). Their excellent newsletter also keeps me up to date with new releases.
Favourite Independent Bookshop - The Children’s Bookshop in Muswell Hill, north London
Having children has given me the chance to rediscover my old favourite children’s books with them – and of course, discover new ones – and this is the perfect shop for finding new and old favourites. It has a wide range, knowledgeable staff and a friendly atmosphere. Handily, it’s also opposite Muswell Hill Bookshop, another great independent bookshop, so adults and children can all have a good browse.
Favourite Independent Bookshop - Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop, Middle Street, Galway, Ireland
This magnificent independent bookshop in the windswept west of Ireland is hardly a secret; it just won Irish Bookshop of the Year at the Nibbies. But I’ve been a fan ever since it opened, thirty years ago, in a much smaller premises, across the road from the enormous current one. Charlie, the eponymous owner, is a quiet, modest man; the manager, Vinnie Browne is a far louder and more exuberant character. New visitors to the shop often, therefore, assume Vinnie must be the owner, and so Vinnie now answers as easily to Charlie as Vinnie. Every year, the shop seems to grow, taking over yet another neighbouring space, like some sea creature whose shell expands chamber by chamber. You could get lost in it; you could live in it. I have often fantasised about doing just that. Its tremendous range of new and second-hand books is brilliantly curated, it has kindly, knowledgable staff, and is perhaps my favourite place on earth. Back when Galway was cheap, and I lived above a butcher’s, in a meat locker that had been converted into a bedsit (yes, there was a reason Galway was cheaper back then . . . ), I consistently spent more time in Charlie Byrnes than I did in my flat, and more money on books than I did on rent. Those Galway years made me a writer; I am profoundly grateful to Charlie Byrne’s, my second home.
Favourite Independent Bookshop - Blackwell’s, Oxford
I worship at many independent bookshops – at the London Review of Books with its unrivalled poetry section and its great selection of new journals and chapbooks; elegant Hatchards, floor after floor of esoteric and surprising delights; Amersham’s Twist in the Tale, which stocked my children’s shelves for years; or Wimbledon Books, small but brilliantly curated. The Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street – Stanfords – Foyles. England is lucky to be so rich in bookstores.
If forced to choose a single independent, though, it would be Blackwell’s. As an undergraduate, I bought all my textbooks there, and splashed out on Moncrieff’s translation of Proust. My Blackwell’s account ate up most of my monthly allowance.
When I moved back to Oxford in 2012, Blackwell’s was unchanged – even some staff were the same, and truly, it is those individuals who make the place what it is: Ray with his unrivalled knowledge of literature in translation (he pressed into my hands the great Walter Kempowski and Jenny Erpenpeck, saying “You must read these!”); Peter Saxel, who has known generations of the university’s classicists, and who, when I was researching Bells of Old Tokyo, wrote out, in an elegant, sloping hand, the title of a nineteenth-century French text (“You should refer to this volume. Would be happy to order a copy in for you,”); and an unnamed volunteer in the children’s section who, meeting my daughter browsing in MYSTERY and unable to find anything she liked, appraised her tastes with the delicacy of a water diviner finding a hidden river. I went in the next week to thank the woman. When I described her care, her patience, her passionate sense that the perfect match exists between book and reader, several other Blackwell’s staff just shrugged, smiling: “That could have been anyone here!”
Favourite Independent Bookshop - Atkinson-Pryce Books, Biggar, South Lanarkshire
I love Booka Bookshop in Oswestry, Mainstreet Trading Company in St Boswell’s, and those two equally magnificent Bath rivals Mr. B’s Emporium and Topping & Company. But if for some weird reason I really had to choose one independent it would probably be Atkinson-Pryce Books in Biggar, South Lanarkshire. I have never been in a more perfectly designed bookshop, with a lovely integration of the books themselves and various bold and charming artworks. The books are everywhere, somehow all folded into an incredibly small place, like a ship’s cabin. I did an event there recently and by the end was trying to work out how I could relocate my family to Biggar. It was like being given a brief glimpse of an ideal place and then being cruelly chucked back into London.
Favourite Independent Bookshop - The Book Hive, London St, Norwich
It's not every day that you walk into your local bookshop and a starry writer like Megan Bradbury advises you on which new novel to pick up. But that's what Norwich’s Book Hive offers. It's a magical little place, with a beautiful curved glass front, tasteful green awnings, and creaking floors. It’s beloved by me - for their literary picks of the weird and wonderful - as well as my daughter, who loves their kids' section too. All of Norwich’s readers and writers come here to chat books with the booksellers – Henry, Joe and Megan. (And there are so many writers here! Is this city the Hollywood of the Novel?!) I suppose that’s what makes it not so much a shop, as a hive, as the name suggests.
In this episode of Book Break, Harriet Rosie gives Emma a tour of Brighton's best independent bookshops: