I love doing a twist on the current Top Ten Tuesday topic, and I’ve been thinking about all the bookshops I want to visit when I can start leaving the house again, so today I’m showcasing some of the weird and wonderful British Bookshops I’ve discovered, online and in person.
Hay-On-Wye is a literary town – literally. According to Wikipedia the small town in Wales has two dozen bookshops, and a literary festival every year. But perhaps most striking is the Honesty Bookshop, a regularly updated bookshop outside, with creaking bookcases stacked together. There’s no shop owner guarding these books, buyers of the are expected to be honest.
At first glance, this could just be a regular bookshop that specialises in cookbooks, which is only interesting to people who are obsessed with cooking. But look closer and you’ll find what makes it special – according to The Independent (2017), every Tuesday through Friday they pick books off of the shelves and cook them – and they cost less than £10 for a three course meal. Even a glass of Wine is £3. Amazing.
Persephone Books is at the very top of my bucket list and it should be on yours too – they reprint mid-century neglected fiction and non-fiction books by (mostly) female authors. You can buy their beautifully reprinted books online (click the title above) and if you’re like me and love teen fiction, they have a section for that.
Al Saqi books is the first bookshop in London to specialise in Arabic works, and if the wiki is correct, it was founded by an incredible woman. Mai Ghoussoub was a Lebanese writer, publisher, artist and human rights activist who lost her eye during the Lebanese Civil War, and moved to London for treatment. After spending some time working in journalism she founded this bookshop in 1979, alongside her friend Andre Gaspard.
Gay’s The Word was founded the same year as the Al Saqi bookshop above, in 1979. Currently it is the only dedicated LGBT+ Bookshop in England and it’s faced some backlash for existing. In 1984 it was raided, with HM Customs and Excise deciding it was a pornographic store, a lot of it’s stock was removed and the shop charged with “conspiracy to import indecent books”.
Described as selling Esoteric Books and occult supplies, Treadwell’s is a really cool witchy bookshop that I’ve actually been in, and they have some fascinating books on so many occult subjects from all around the world. They even do online Tarot card readings.
The Alligator’s Mouth is a children’s bookshop, and it’s title and logo appear to have been made by Chris Riddell, an illustrator I love so much I can recognise his font immediately. The name is inspired by a Lemony Snicket quote: ‘A book is like an alligator’s mouth – if you see one open you often end up disappearing inside.’
Described as “the most bizarre and outrageously decorated bookshop in Hay-on-Wye”, this bookshop specialises in True Crime, Detective Fiction, Horror, you get the idea. I presume the dog on the front of the shop is a homage to Hound Of The Baskervilles, but I’m not sure about the cat.
An award-winning female-owned Children’s Book Shop, Tales From Moon Lane aesthetically stunning. They have a wall where visiting artists and illustrators can leave their mark, and Chris Riddell makes an appearance again, with a wonderfully strange doodle of what looks like Cousin It holding an umbrella.
Not a bookshop, but something I had to add, is the Leeds Library. This is not the big public library but a much smaller, hidden (you can see it between Paperchase and Co-Operative in the first picture) independent library that you pay to join. I lived in Leeds for over 20 years and didn’t even think to Google it until I left, it’s so well hidden.