The BookBrunch team reveals where they've been buying the books on their bedside tables
To celebrate Independent Bookshop Week, we're taking a break from our usual What We're Reading feature to let you know where we've been buying our favourite books...
Having (at least partially) moved to Suffolk some years ago, I've enjoyed investigating the many indie bookshops that the region has to offer. The wonderful Aldeburgh Bookshop has, however, been the one to get most of my custom, not least because of their excellent customer service over the past year, and the white cotton (and therefore washable) gloves one is now expected to wear when in the store. A double fronted shop on Aldeburgh's High Street, with an enticing array in the windows, they offer a great selection of absolutely all the books I love, including a special section for Orlando the Marmalade Cat, whom I remember from my childhood and who apparently holidayed in Aldeburgh. And that's not all - through the books proper you find a well stocked section of art materials, puzzles, stationary and even mugs - so truly something for everyone.
In 2013, I spent a month in Edinburgh and was lucky enough to get to know the city pretty well. Not only is it one of the most beautiful places on earth, I also discovered my favourite bookshop. Back then it was called Word Power Books - I still have a bright purple carrier bag from it somewhere - and it had the most wonderful eclectic selection of books - pamphlets of poetry, feminist tomes, one of the best LGBTQ+ sections ever. I spent hours in there - they were very kind about it - and bought a pile of books that I struggled to fit in my suitcase when I finally went home. Word Power Books was taken over in 2017, and is now called the Lighthouse Bookshop. Although I was nervous about visiting a place I loved that had changed, I am delighted to report that it is still as brilliant. The selection of books is just wonderful, there is an incredible range of events, the staff are knowledgeable, kind and funny, and they are truly dedicated to serving their community as a radical bookshop. It's a wonderful space where you can breathe out, relax, and know that you're surrounded by kindred spirits. Next time I go to Edinburgh, the Lighthouse Bookshop will be my first stop.
My favourite indie in a way is a bit of a cheat, as it isn't a tiny shop crammed with books and curated with love, but a massive shop, crammed with books and curated with love. Every time I walk through the doors of Foyles, I feel a sense of occasion, and also awe at this great powerhouse of knowledge and culture. Somewhat controversially, I prefer the new Foyles to the old, with its forgotten corners and insane floorplan. The airy, logical layout of the new store, the half-floors that suck you in deeper and deeper, the great lightwell of the staircase, is a masterclass in top-end 21st century retail, and one of the finest stores in London in any category. The real killer, though, is the incredibly deep range, the books you never knew existed, let alone wanted to buy, and the splendidly academic staff. They have a studied politeness for the casual shopper, but to anyone betraying enthusiasm for something a little more obscure, their faces light up at once and their deep knowledge is freely put at the browser's disposal. Truly a great shop.
The Seventies, as Dominic Sandbrook and Alwyn Turner have reminded me, were grim. But three-day weeks, strikes at public utilities, inflation, and terrorist atrocities were aspects of a world I had yet to enter. It seemed to me then, and still does, to be an exciting time to be discovering books, music, films, sport and sex. Enthusiasm for such pursuits may not wane, but the extraordinary thrill they give you in adolescence does; and so no bookshop now can match the place where I made many of my early literary discoveries. It was the Muswell Hill Bookshop, now sad to say defunct. It seemed to contain everything worth reading: the only book I ever had to order there was James Hogg's The Confessions of a Justified Sinner, an A level text. My favourite hunting ground was the Penguin room, at the back - Penguin's status then, before its rivals became vertically integrated, justified these exclusive shelves. The editorial choices were intriguing: why, for example, was Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One deemed the only novel of his worthy of Modern Classics status? A distinctive yet authoritative taste appeared to be guiding the list. Now, the notion that guardians should select our artistic experiences based on what they consider to be worthwhile is felt to be hopelessly patrician, and perhaps rightly so; but something has been lost.
For years I always admired the ever-changing illustrated window displays of Pickled Pepper Books, but it wasn't until my son came along and I had reason to spend time inside that I discovered just what a gem it is. It's a dream for children, and tired parents too (there's a coffee machine). Alongside the great selection of titles, it boasts a theatre at the back for singalongs and shows. We've watched The Hungry Caterpillar come to life and been showered with books by (a socially distanced) Santa Claus. Unusually for such a small area there are two other bookshops a stone's throw away, which has put pressure on sales, but Pickled Pepper has cemented its place in the community - exactly what the best indies do.