As the UK enters its second lockdown, independent bookshops are in need of people’s assistance more than ever. Browsing a local independent bookshop is a pleasure that not everyone gets to experience. Although they somewhat turned a corner, not everyone is able to go out and experience them. Now that they are closed until early December, or even longer, nobody is able to browse the aisles and smell that smell that only book lovers really understand. “But I want to support indie bookshops! I don’t want to go through the mega-giant soulless corporate giants!” Well, you are in luck because there is a handy-dandy map of UK indie bookshops made by teacher Jon Biddle.
There are over 200 bookshops listed on it, covering all areas of the UK. Most of these shops deliver. I’ve lived in the UK for eight years now and I’ve made it a mission to try and visit as many indie bookshops as I can.
I’ve talked about amazing bookshops in the UK before, like Voltaire and Rousseau in Glasgow (sadly not on the list yet). I got lost in that place for what seemed like seconds but ended up being much, much longer. Glasgow is a ridiculously cool and weird and, yes, dangerous city, but it’s worth a visit to check out this bookshop alone once we’re allowed to go out and do such things again.
The UK has an abundance of weird and wonderful old bookshops, like Camilla’s in Eastbourne, which by chance happens to be the focus of one of the first Book Riot articles I ever wrote. Camilla’s claims to have over one million books and, although it too is not on the map yet, it’s worth checking out if you can. The last time I was in there they had a grumpy parrot on the top floor and most of the science fiction was on the stairs leading up to said parrot. The owners seem to know where everything is. It’s the kind of place where you never quite feel the same after leaving, in a good way. The books are stacked so high they seemed to be in and of themselves structurally important to the building. The books spill out onto the sidewalk in crates, on wooden shelves, under tarps and in little cardboard boxes. The owners stand in the middle of the room on the ground floor, undulating hills of books swirling around them.
There’s a great children’s author here in the UK named Anna James who writes a series called Tilly and the Book Wanderers about a girl who lives above a bookshop who gets sucked down into the books she reads and goes on many strange adventures. I can’t help but think of Camilla’s every time I see her book on the shelves in the library that I manage.
Then there’s the gem that is Lewes, full of great bookish places and little lanes to meander down as you find your way from one cool bookshop to the other.
Bookshops are part of what makes the UK a cool, unique place for me and I am determined to support them as best I can. As a librarian, I’m constantly trying to find books that you won’t find in the big chain supermarkets for students, I want them to discover books by accident in the library, ones that fly completely under the radar but blow their minds all the same. Small, indie bookshops can generate that exact same experience, but they won’t if they wither and die during this pandemic.
This map is one way of doing that. I hope we can support our bookshops in this terrible time and ensure they see the light on the other end.