Your bookshops #16, Kemptown Bookshop

Brighton may only be an hour or so away from me but it's a place I know very little about, so when writer Tracey Sinclair got in touch offering to write about her local I was very pleased to be able to add a new city to the index, and a new bookshop to my must-visit list.

Kemptown Bookshop
91 St George's Road, Brighton, Sussex, BN2 1EE
Tel: 01273 682110
Published: 31st May, 2016

When I relocated from London to Brighton three years ago – discarding a vast chunk of my book collection in the process – one of the things I liked most about my new neighbourhood was the fact that it had a bookshop. A proper, old-fashioned bookshop, rather than the (actually very good) BHF charity shop and (actually not very good) WH Smith I’d been limited to back in Streatham.

Kemptown Bookshop is a compact gem of a place. Nestled in a cluster of vintage shops and cafes in an otherwise residential street, it covers two floors and a basement, and offers an admirably eclectic selection: fiction, local interest, children’s and non-fiction are all well-represented, alongside greetings cards (the gateway drug for any bookshop – ooh, I need a birthday card, you think, and come out half an hour later with 30 quid’s worth of hardbacks). Upstairs is a pleasingly quirky collection of stationery, and they also – happily for my heart, if not my wallet – stock an excellent range of Moleskines. 

I admit I don’t buy a lot of my planned, ‘mainstream’ fiction there – if I’m after the new John Connelly or Lee Child hardback, I’m getting that at 50% off on Amazon, sorry – but it’s a treasure trove of the unexpected. It’s also directly on the way to Ground, my local cafĂ©, which, as a freelancer, I visit daily, so I often pop in en route for coffee for a bit of a browse and, if the younger staff are working, a friendly chat. 

Over the years I’ve picked up a number of great buys there – books I would likely have missed in the clutter of a Waterstones: recent buys include the gorgeous little hardbacks Grief is the Thing with Feathers, and Rebecca Solnit’s collection of essays Men Explain Things to Me. Although it stocks a decent range of popular fiction and bestsellers, I prefer it for the kind of things you’ll never find in the three-for-two promos at bigger stores: it forces me to look a bit harder, and pick up authors I might not otherwise consider. 

Like the best bookshops, they let you browse unmolested, but are also happy to recommend things – when I bought Charlotte Higgins’ history of the BBC, This New Noise, the bookseller piped up – ‘Ooh, have you read Human Voices?’ This introduced me both to a novel I wasn’t familiar with that, as an ex-BBC staffer, I found personally fascinating but also, I found out (when I tweeted this story and Higgins replied) one of the core influences on her book. 

In some ways, this isn’t an outstanding bookshop – it has no particular novelty or USP that I’m aware of, no reason to go out of your way to find it if you’re not in the area anyway. But that makes it more perfect: it’s just a nice little local bookshop, doing its best to cater for its neighbourhood, an unshowy little store of the kind you rarely see anymore. For that, we should treasure it.

Thank you very much to Tracey for giving me a reason to want to visit Brighton as soon as possible. Tracey Sinclair is a freelance writer, author, playwright and editor who has worked in a number of bookshops across England and Scotland. Her latest series is the Cassandra Bick/Dark Dates series, the most recent of which is Angel Falls. If you'd like to know more, take a look on Facebook or click here.

I've finally managed to visit this wonderful bookshop for myself. Here's what I thought.

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