Wednesday 21 October 2015

What if you try exploring?

London brings out the tourist in me. Not the stereotypical snap-happy, loud-talking, slow-walking visitor of all the obvious destinations, but an explorer of strange corners, always looking up at the tall buildings and pausing to enjoy random fun as it occurs.

I'm not a Londoner so I'm generally ignorant of the random fun going on around the city. Instead I rely on friends, Twitter, Ian Visits and luck. For this week's bookshop the experience was entirely down to luck.

Admittedly, I had set out on my Books are my bag bookshop crawl with the intention of visiting a bookshop on Broadway Market, I just hadn't anticipated finding two bookshops and a bright and colourful market. (Frustratingly I later found out there are actually three on this road, I can only guess the third was on the other side, hidden from my view by those market stalls I'd been so busy enjoying.) It was a brilliant experience, with the wonderful smells of street food and fresh produce complemented by music and a general buzz.

The place I'm sharing with you this week is Artwords Bookshop, which was on the left side of the market as I walked from London Fields tube. It has a corner spot and a striking blue front, but even with these two things in its favour I might not've noticed it had I not paused to listen to the musicians who'd set up on the junction outside.

I'm not blind, but other than the occasional glance at street numbers on shop fronts, my attention had been entirely taken up by the sights and smells of the market – I could've hung around and enjoyed them all day.

As for the bookshop itself, it was cool and assured. Honestly, before I started this blog it was the kind of place I'd probably have been a little scared to enter. Thankfully I now know better.

The reason I would once have been afraid is because Artwords is all about visual culture, it's not somewhere you'd go for bestselling fiction – although fiction is stocked there – and it's definitely not your standard bookshop. The recommends tables have a message of awareness about them and imagery abounds. In the past my own ignorance and lack of cool would have made me doubt my right to be in such a place.*

However the books are there to open our eyes and nowadays I'm much less self-conscious and much more willing to dive in. As were lots of other people at the time of my visit: the bookshop was crammed. In a good way. It felt as though a little of the market atmosphere continued inside.

Which is only natural given the selection of books available to feast on. Art is in abundance but I also dawdled around history, cookery, humour and more, eventually choosing to buy What if? by Randall Munroe of xkcd fame. The combination of science, absurdity and stick figure cartoons was further reassurance of my right to be there.

Artwords Bookshop is an excellent example of the variety and difference independent bookshops can offer, inviting us into a world of discovery. If this blog achieves anything then I'd hope it's to encourage others to think "what if I ventured in there?" – to look beyond their nerves and start exploring such out of the ordinary bookshops as this. Who knows what adventures it may eventually lead to...

Artwords Bookshop
20-22 Broadway Market,
London Fields, 
London, E8 4QJ
Tel: 020 7923 7507

* If I'm totally honest, in the past a certain level of shyness would never have seen me traipse across London to randomly encounter a wonderful market while on my way to a bookshop I'd not previously met. It's amazing where a little bit of bookshop stalking can take you.

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