Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Book and a brew

On first entering Chapter One Books, I'll be honest and say I was a little unsure if I'd come to the right place.

A counter of cakes and a hot drinks area line the first wall you see, meaning anyone could easily be mistaken and think they'd entered a cafe. But that's not an unusual find in a bookshop, and even now I'm not sure which label would be the most accurate for the subject of this week's blog. Either way, Chapter One Books turned out to be a worthy destination for a tea-hunting bookshopper.

I was in Manchester with my boyfriend and his big brother, and when I heard the former say "It'll be interesting to see what you buy from here" I wasn't entirely surprised, because this isn't a bookshop in the traditional sense of the word. There are no obvious genre divides and while I did see a sign for the secondhand shelves most of the books appear to be placed where they'll look good more than anything else. Thought had obviously gone into which books were on display, but it wasn't immediately clear how shelves were arranged.

Having passed the serving counter (and a stunning selection of cakes), we entered a large, open, space with floor to ceiling windows, and tables and chairs scattered everywhere. Shelves are gently filled with face-out books, most accompanied by a hand-written introduction, and a couple of picnic bench tables of books fill the centre of the room, but the book content of this bookshop is sparse.


I use the word sparse as an observation, not a complaint. Chapter One Books may not be a traditional bookshop and I'm not even sure if I saw a non-fiction area, but it is still a nicely stocked bookshop with an interesting selection of fiction.

This is more a place to meet friends for a cuppa and cake, rather than a dedicated browse, but I'd still advise arriving half an hour early or even allowing time after you've finished catching up to properly enjoy the books: with their covers looking out at you they cannot be ignored.

We took our time wandering around, enjoying the unusual layout of the shelves and eyeing up the other customers, trying to work out who would leave next so we could nab their table. This plan worked pretty well because the bookshop's currently running a #BookAndABrew promotion, where you get a free hot drink with every book purchased. It would've been rude not to make the most of this offer.

Eventually realising there was an order to the layout of the stock, I found the science fiction section and chose the Arthur C Clarke Award-winning Children of Time by Adrain Tchaikovsky – and as you've probably guessed, any bookshop that finds space to stock a few science fiction titles wins extra brownie points from me.

The big brother kindly bought our various teas and my book, and we took a table by a window, in one of the nooks created by carefully placed bookshelves. Speed of service isn't this destination's strong point, but we had been warned there'd be a bit of a wait so I didn't mind the delay, instead enjoying the opportunity to soak up the atmosphere. This was also a good opportunity to properly stop and chat as I'd been a little nervous about my first meeting with my boyfriend's family*. Tea in the welcoming atmosphere of Chapter One Books turned out to be the perfect place to do just that.

During this time I also noticed the other visitors: a couple playing Scrabble, another pair reading together, a group of teens simply hanging out, and others who'd come in to catch up and eventually got drawn into the books, picking up a title as they paused in conversation. These are all reasonable bookshop activities but seemed all the more noticeable because of their taking place at cafe tables, rather than among the shelves. It was also startling to realise many people there were.

This unusual bookshop cafe setting is obviously a recipe for success in Manchester city centre.


Chapter One Books
Chatsworth House, Lever Street, Manchester M1 1BY
Tel: 0161 298 2015
@chapter1uk

*The brother was lovely, and frustratingly kind and didn't share any embarrassing stories from my boyfriend's childhood.

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