Whether you’re a bibliophile or not, visiting an independent bookshop is a calming and enjoyable experience. There’s a real joy to surrounding yourself with unread stories – old and new, pre-loved and ready-to-be-loved, first editions and classics – you never truly know what you might find and fall in love with. The quietness and tranquillity also make them an easy place to pass the time.
Amazingly, considering the availability of cheap books online, independent bookshops started to pop up increasingly more last year – with the Booksellers Association reporting that the number of independent bookshops increased for the second year running by 16 per cent.
Yet, owing to coronavirus, all non-essential shops were forced to close their doors on 23 March, so many indie booksellers have been put at risk.
While the latest easing of lockdown restrictions means independent bookstores are now allowed to open, with strict social distancing measures in place, people may be increasingly anxious about spending their time in confined spaces, so these treasure troves are likely to be continuously hit as a result of the pandemic.
Luckily, there are a host of (online) literary nooks buzzing with good reads that you can support. In honour of Independent Bookshop Week (20-27 March) – an annual event aimed to celebrate independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland – we have rounded up of some of the very best places you can shop and help keep the sales up during this trying time.
As part of Independent Bookshop Week – indies are doing what they can given the current climate, usually celebrations involve hosting readings and signings, cooking up literary lunches and generally feeding curiosity, this year however, events will take place digitally.
With many places taking orders online or over the phone, if you want to learn about the life of Deborah Orr though the moving memoir Motherwell: A Girlhood she left behind, or if want to get your hands on The Mirror and the Light, the final novel in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy, we urge you to do so from one of these places.
Reducing these bookshops to simply selling would not do them justice. They don’t stock everything because space is at a premium, but they can order anything in for you. And if you get to know the booksellers, they get to know your tastes and will recommend the fiction and non-fiction they think you’ll love, far better than any algorithm can. If you’re looking to find one that’s close to you, take a look at the bookshop search.
You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.
Round Table Books, London
What started as a pop-up in response to a study revealing that only one per cent of children’s books in the UK contain a BAME character, Round Table Books is an “inclusive” store dedicated to children (with a few adult titles thrown in too). It curates and stocks books from the widest variety of UK and Irish publishers possible to celebrate underrepresented children’s books, writers and publishers. The online shop couldn’t be easier to use, with sections dedicated to different age ranges.
Category is Books, Glasgow
This LGBTQIA+ bookshop in Glasgow was started by wife and wife team to create a space for the community and their allies to learn about, be inspired by and share a love of queer history, culture, writing and storytelling. Stocking new and second-hand queer books, magazines, graph novels and more, but if there’s something you’d like to order, either give them a call or send them an email with a list of what you’d like. The pay-it-forward shelf has operated online throughout lockdown, so those who are low on funds can still order books to help them get through these trying times. The Category is Books Instagram page is also full of recommendations – from books written by queer black writers to queer sci-fi. Keep an eye out for any upcoming events too.
The Gutter Bookshop, Dublin
Taking its name and ethos from Oscar Wilde: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”, The Gutter Bookshop in Dublin is kind of a big deal. It was named Independent Bookshop of the Year at the British Book Awards in 2017, and having opened its doors in 2009, in the middle of a recession, this wonderful bolt hole proceeded to open a second shop in Dalkey, a small seaside suburb in the south of Dublin.
With a comprehensive online shop including signed first editions, the team promises to get most popular titles within 24 hours and will try and track down new or good second-hand copies of books that are out of print, or are hard to find and will even post books worldwide, so this is a great one to have on your radar. If you are Dublin-based, keep an eye out for the book clubs it hosts for a post-lockdown get together.
With a philosophy of wanting to connect people to books, help children to develop a lifelong love of reading and encourage imaginative play, Book-ish offers a high-quality service. In 2019, it had a record year and ran its own literary festival, hosted numerous book clubs and local groups, and even launched a book subscription service.
Throughout lockdown, Book-ish has taken online orders, and with a stock of more than 5000 titles, there is something for everything. While this one remains closed, when it does reopen, make sure to check out the onsite café, because is there a better combo than cake and books?
Persephone Books, London
Founded in 1998 on a mission to republish neglected and under-appreciated mid-twentieth century (mostly) women’s literature, Persephone Books is truly something special. You can shop its wide selection of fiction and non-fiction – from short stories to cookbooks – online. Alternatively, with the shop is now open, so why not pay it a visit.
Chapter One Books, Manchester
Opening its doors in 2015, Chapter One immediately gained fans because of its curated book selection, quirky furnishings and onsite café. Hosting community events – from life drawing to reading groups – it’s a wonderful environment to be in. You can browse and order from the wide selection of books online.
Pages of Hackney, London
A lovely little bookshop on Lower Clapton Road, Pages of Hackney makes an extraordinary addition to a rather ordinary street. Bursting with everything from contemporary and classic fiction, travel books and cookbooks, vintage and second-hand editions of Penguin Classics, and so much more.
Because of it’s size, this one’s staying closed for a while, but it has launched its “lockdown shop” – were it is selling its wide collection. If you can’t find what you’re looking for on the site, or are want a recommendation, drop the team an email and someone will get back to you.
Five Leaves Bookshop, Nottingham
Known for its radical and literary roots, specialising in social history, politics, fiction, international writing, poetry and LGBTQ+ literature, visit Five Leaves for all your independent press needs. During lockdown Five Leaves is offering mail order from stock or to special order, posting books for free. It is also offering mystery boxes of £50 or £100 of books – just give them a brief, or any exclusions, and it’ll send you a box of books of its choice. There’s nothing quite like a good surprise. When it’s back open, keep an eye out for the great events.
The Book Hive, Norwich
Norwich’s multi-award winning independent book shop, The Book Hive offers a hand-picked selection of books, including modern classics, poetry and rare titles. This one is a favourite among famous writers such as Stephen Fry and Margaret Atwood, and we can see why – it’s a quirky and all together different experience from any other bookshop.
During lockdown the team is posting individual titles. But, if you want a surprise order either the “self-isolation reading packs” – choose a theme (fiction, poetry, non-fiction etc.) and tell the team about the books you like, and they will send you five hand-picked books for just £45, or “an isolation lucky dip” where the team send you a book at random – every order includes a £1 donation to Sir Norman Lamb’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund, too.
DRAKE The Bookshop, Stockton
The main focus of this family run business was to create a community hub in Stockton for reading, writing, and all things books, with a particular emphasis on encouraging children to love novels too. And that’s exactly what it has managed to do. Throughout lockdown it has been holding online book blubs for fellow booklovers. The online shop is easy to use, and if you can’t find what you’re looking for just drop the team an email.
Founded in 1797, Hatchards is London’s oldest bookshop, and is said to be the Queen’s favourite. Holding an impressive curated collection of signed and first edition books, as well as current popular fiction and non-fiction, this truly is a wonder. You can even opt for a book subscription – after a consultation with one of the expert booksellers, the most appropriate books are hand-picked each month and delivered to your door – a great gift for you or a loved one. It also offers worldwide delivery, and the team will happily source difficult to find first editions or out of print titles for you. This one is really worth a visit.
Max Minerva’s, Bristol
Founded on a love for the emotion, imagination and the way books make you think, Max Minerva’s is a community hub for kids and grown-ups, and not only provides marvellous books, it also hosts events, classes, school tours and more. You can order directly from the website, which offers a comprehensive selection of books, and there’s even the option to sign up for the reading subscription too. Throughout lockdown the team has hosted live storytimes for children via Instagram.
Golden Hare Books, Edinburgh
Golden Hare Books took the crown of the Independent Bookshop of the Year in 2019 and should be at the top of your list if you’re an Edinburgh local or visiting for the weekend (keep an eye out of the resident dog). In a bid to stir curiosity, books are displayed facing outwards, and selections are rotated regularly. While visiting this bright and airy bolthole might be off the cards, you can still order from its great selection of books via the online shop.
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