Like so many people reading this, I love independent bookshops. They feel like spaces separate from the world around them, little pockets of magic hiding on drab high streets. When I went to university in the city of Southampton, I found one of my favourite independent bookshops ever: October Books.
October Books’s orange sign is a bright splash of colour on Southampton’s Portswood Road, and its decor choices aren’t the only way it stands out. When you walk through the door, you find a collection of books that includes not only popular fiction, nonfiction, and kidlit, but a wide collection about radical social and political movements. I was in the first year of my English Literature degree at Southampton, steeping in poetry by dead white men, and October Books was a cracked-open door that was a major factor in picking the courses that would give me a far more diverse, kyriarchy-smashing reading list, as well as turning me into the hurtling-ever-leftward bleeding-heart I am today. They were also my go-to source for feminist art and postcards, many of which still have a place on my walls.
October Books walks the walk as well as talking the talk. It’s a co-op bookshop with strong local connections, run as a nonprofit and with a consistent focus on fairness and equality. It’s one of the few shops I’ve encountered that has a specific, official code of conduct that includes no-platforming books that contain sexist, colonialist, imperialist, fascist, racist, disablist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-Semitic or Islamophobic ideology, and which actively seeks out books by marginalised authors. As well as books, they also sell fair trade goods (and I can guarantee that every book is improved when you read it with a mug of ethical coffee and a chocolate bar). They also run regular author nights, with a fantastic mix of local and further-afield authors. Sneaking a look at their upcoming events, I’m a bit jealous that I don’t live nearby any more – I’d be very up for a talk on grassroots humanist movements in the UK.
A lot of my student loan got spent at October Books. Even now, I’ve still got many of the books I bought there on my shelves. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum, one of the most mind-opening books I read at university, came from there, as did What’s the Matter With America? The Resistable Rise of the American Right by Thomas Frank (bought during the height of the Bush era – it might actually be a good time for a reread…)
Even after I finished my degree and moved away, I didn’t forget October Books. One of the first crowdfunders I supported was their fight to keep the shop open, as shifts in bookselling practices made it more and more difficult for independent bookshops to stay afloat. The bookshop recently moved to new premises – appropriately for its ethos, taking over a former bank and turning it into part of their community collective. October Books is probably the part of Southampton life I miss the most (well, that and The Hobbit pub…but that’s one for another article), and a strong reminder of the importance of independent bookshops, and the difference they can make to the community they’re part of. If you’re ever in Southampton, drop by and have a browse – you’re bound to find a truly radical read.